Universal Pictures | June 10, 2022 | 146 Mins. | Action, Sci-Fi, Adventure
PAWS OF FURY (2022) l Paramount | Release Date: July 15, 2022 | 107 Mins
A down-on-his-luck hound Hank (Michael Cera) finds himself in a town full of cats who need a hero to defend them from a ruthless villain's (Ricky Gervais) evil plot to wipe their village off the map. With help from a reluctant teacher (Samuel L. Jackson) to train him, our underdog must assume the role of town samurai and team up with the villagers to save the day. The only problem… cats hate dogs!
REVIEW BY: Darren Zakus
Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank is fun enough for the little ones who will no doubt enjoy this samurai inspired film, but the story is a mix-mash of ideas full of slapstick comedy targeting younger audiences that makes this one tough for parents to enjoy.
Animated films are largely targeted towards children, for obvious reasons, and it feels wrong to give it a bad film as a grown adult as I am not target for such a film. However, we have been spoiled over the past two decades with outstanding animated films such as Toy Story 3, How to Train Your Dragon, The Mitchells vs The Machines, and Up, that not only are loaded with entertainment for younger viewers, but are able to connect with more mature audiences due to their more universal themes and in Pixar’s case, its ability to make a theatre of adults cry uncontrollably. I went into Paws of Fury with an open mind, but unfortunately this film failed to entertain me in the slightest.
The film follows a dog named Hank, in a land of cats, assigned to be the local town’s newest samurai by the local lord, setting him up for failure as part of a larger scheme to take over the town to improve the view from his palace. The film is roughly eighty-five minutes long, which unfortunately multiple jokes remind you of this fact throughout the film, but there is both too much and too little going on through the entire film. It’s part samurai training, part western, part slapstick comedy, while also being set in both a past and modern world which constantly breaks the fourth wall. There are simply too many ideas at play, causing the film to jump around, which will work for younger viewers who will enjoy all the silly jokes, but tirring for parents sitting through the film.
Thematically, the story recycles ideas and morals that numerous animated films have done before. There is nothing wrong with this, but when other films have done it better, it is easy to question why this film decided to redo them but not as well instead of trying something new. Also, the film had a strange reliance on references to Broadway musicals, which don’t get me wrong as I adore Broadway musicals, but they seemed very out of place given the target audience of the film. Though I will be the first to admit that my favourite scene of the film was hearing Leonard Bernstein’s legendary score for West Side Story playing as a gang of dogs were snapping their paws, about to beat up Hank in a flashback. The best way to describe this film is that it is the type of film parents want to turn on for their children on Netflix to leave them in one room knowing that they will be occupied so they can clean or do housework elsewhere.
While the film features a great voice cast, the majority of the performances are quickly forgettable. Samuel L. Jackson is entertaining as Hank’s sensi Jimbo, and while he brings that iconic Samuel L. Jackson vibe to the film, it makes no real lasting impact on the audience. Ricky Gervais is the standout of the cast as the evil lord Ika Chu, hamming it up as the tyrannical lord who will stop at nothing to wipe out the town. Gervais is known for his mischievous attitude, especially while hosting the Golden Globes and roasting all of Hollywood, so naturally he finds himself right at home as the film’s villain. Without a doubt, he has the best moments of the film and is going all out, delivering a performance that audiences of all ages will enjoy.
Michael Cera was fine as Hank, nothing he did stood out either way to me. And unfortunately, the film massively misuses the ever brilliant Michelle Yeoh, giving her only a couple lines of dialogue. Yeoh has been on a roll the past year, between her exceptional performance in Everything Everywhere At Once and memorable world building roles in SHang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, Gunpowder Milkshake and Minions: The Rise of Gru, she could have easily helped develop the world of the film as she is such a great actress when it comes to these blockbuster films.
In terms of animation, the film is nothing remarkable compared to the recent animated films we have seen, not coming anywhere close to the standard set by Pixar, Dreamworks and Illumination. Parents taking their children to the theatre can pick Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank easily knowing that their children will enjoy every second of this film. But, if they are looking for something that they will also enjoy, they are far better off picking Minions: The Rise of Gru or Lightyear instead, which offer more for adult audiences to enjoy. Despite a good voice cast, Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank has an over bloated story full of divergent ideas that do not come together to create a coherent film even if it is entertaining enough for younger audiences.