Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank
The age-old question of whether the transposition of Mel Brooks’s cult satire Blazing Saddles to feudal Japan in the form of an animated children’s story about cats and dogs would, in practice, work, has been answered: it doesn’t. Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank at least demonstrates how the magic of a great comedy is sourced from more than just the mechanisms of its plot.
The plot outline of Blazing Saddles is, indeed, almost entirely followed in this disjointed, almost soulless (not entirely, thanks to a rather sweet cameo from Brooks himself, essentially reprising his anarchic turn as Governor Le Petamane), animation. Many of the set pieces and gags are also torn straight from the 1974 original in moments that not only make you question who the film is being made for but why it is being made at all.
Judging by his performance, it sounds as though Ricky Gervais was asking the same questions in his head, a performance which makes you realise how difficult it really is to marry a human voice with animated physicality successfully. His bone-dry take on the villainous Ika Chu jars noticeably with the character’s sharp, cunning facial expressions in the mould of traditional Disney antagonists.
Although Paws of Fury does broadly follow the plot points established by Brooks and Andrew Bergmann, it does differ in one regard, and it is one which sucks much of the unruly energy out of Brooks’s and Bergmann’s story. In Blazing Saddles, Cleavon Little’s Bart – a black railroad worker and imminent victim of capital punishment – is instead sent as a lamb to slaughter as the sheriff of Rock Ridge, a decision taken in the assumption that its residents will destroy themselves before accepting a black sheriff, leaving the land free to bulldoze a railroad through. The colour of Bart’s skin sees him treated as less than human and disposable by figures of authority. Yet, he is never presented by Brooks as a victim without autonomy, but as someone who is composed, adaptable and in control. Michael Cera’s Hank, the canine shadow of Bart, is initially anything but autonomous, draining his arc of its offbeat charm and imbuing it with something altogether more average and palatable.
For a children’s film, palatable is understandably the quality which takes precedence, but it is also the quality which sees Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank blaze into irrelevance.
Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank is released on Sky on 22nd July 2022.
Watch the trailer for Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank here: