Doggone It, ‘Paws of Fury’ Insists That You Laugh at Its Self-Aware Samurai Animals

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Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank (CREDIT: Paramount Pictures and Nickelodeon Movies)

Starring: Michael Cera, Samuel L. Jackson, Ricky Gervais, Aasif Mandvi, Djimon Hounsou, Mel Brooks, Gabriel Iglesias, George Takei, Michelle Yeoh, Kylie Kuioka

Directors: Rob Minkoff, Mark Koetsier, Chris Bailey

Running Time: 97 Minutes

Rating: PG for The Type of Shenanigans You’d Expect in a Place Named “Kakamucho”

Release Date: July 15, 2022 (Theaters)

What’s It About?: What if feudal Japan had been populated entirely by anthropomorphic cats? Do you think that dogs would be allowed to visit? Of course not, right! And those pooches certainly couldn’t be samurai in this scenario, now could they? But what Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank dares to ask is: what if they could? And that’s how eager beagle Hank (Michael Cera) finds himself under the tutelage of reclusive sensei Jimbo (Samuel L. Jackson) in the village of Kakamucho. But it’s all a setup! You see, Hank was given the assignment of village samurai by the sneaky Ika Chu (Ricky Gervais) as a ploy to lay waste to the land. But this is an animated Nickelodeon movie, so we can rest easy knowing that the doggo and the kindhearted kitties are going to rally together in the end.

What Made an Impression?: Paws of Fury delivers all the typical slapstick gags and generally silly vibes of your average talking animal movie. But it distinguishes itself with a thorough strain of meta humor, as characters assure us that the running time is long enough to fit in the big finale and the action of a major set piece spills out into a virtual theater. At first, I thought those gags were all just done to honor the presence of Mel Brooks, who voices Shogun, the leader of Kakamucho. But then when I saw the late Richard Pryor’s name listed in the “Story By” credits (alongside Brooks and a few others), I realized it ran deeper than that.

As it turns out, Paws of Fury has had quite the winding pre-production history. Loosely inspired by Brooks’ indelible 1974 western sendup Blazing Saddles, it was originally known as Blazing Samurai before it arrived in its more generic cats-versus-dog setup, though the fourth wall breaking still remains. That made this thirtysomething viewer perfectly happy, but I wondered if any of the kiddos were picking up on those riffs. It’s not like they needed to, as there are also plenty of scatological jokes and bright colors to keep them otherwise occupied. But hey, I first fell in love with Brooks and his ilk when I was in this movie’s target age group. So yeah, Paws of Fury isn’t exactly revolutionizing anything the way that Saddles did, but it might just point some budding comedy nerds in the right direction.

Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank is Recommended If You Like: Various shades of red and orange, Kid-friendly versions of sophisticated humor, George Takei shamelessly saying “Oh my” as often as possible

Grade: 3 out of 5 Blades

‘Space Jam: A New Legacy’ … But a New Legacy for Whom?

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Cartoon LeBron (CREDIT:
Warner Bros. Pictures/YouTube Screenshot)

Starring: LeBron James, Bugs Bunny, Don Cheadle, Sonequa Martin-Green, Cedric Joe, Khris Davis, Ceyair J. Wright, Harper Leigh Alexander, Daffy Duck, Porky Pig, Lola Bunny (Zendaya), Sylvester, Yosemite Sam, Foghorn Leghorn, Elmer Fudd, Marvin the Martian, Tweety Bird, Granny, Speedy Gonzales, Tasmanian Devil, Road Runner, Wile E. Coyote, Jeff Bergman, Eric Bauza, Bob Bergen, Candi Milo, Gabriel Iglesias, Anthony Davis, Diana Taurasi, Klay Thompson, Damian Lillard, Nneka Ogwumike, Ernie Johnson, Lil Rel Howery, Sarah Silverman, Steven Yeun, Harry Potter, Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, King Kong, Ilsa Lund, Austin Powers, Dr. Evil, The Iron Giant

Director: Malcolm D. Lee

Running Time: 115 Minutes

Rating: PG

Release Date: July 16, 2021 (Theaters and HBO Max)

The first Space Jam was unhinged; the second Space Jam is also unhinged, but it could be more unique. Or, it could be more committed to its own singular vision. What reality is it tethered to? Are these the same Looney Tunes from 25 years ago? When we get any sense of continuity, I’m intrigued. As for that journey through the Warner Bros “Server-verse”? Why not just fully commit to it and have Tony Soprano play point guard while the Droogs take up the frontcourt? Look, Al-G Rhythm’s plan makes no sense, LeBron’s conflict with his son makes no sense, the scoring system makes no sense, why not take that nonsense to the nth degree? I believe they could’ve flown blind.

Grade: Where’s the Basketball?* (*Said like the “Where’s the Beef?” Lady)

This Is a Movie Review: Ferdinand is Not Your Typical Bull, But ‘Ferdinand’ is Your Typical CG-Animated Kids Movie

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CREDIT: Twentieth Century Fox

This review was originally posted on News Cult in December 2017.

Starring: John Cena, Kate McKinnon, David Tennant, Bobby Cannavale, Anthony Anderson, Peyton Manning, Jerrod Carmichael, Gina Rodriguez, Gabriel Iglesias, Miguel Ángel Silvestre, Flula Borg, Boris Kodjoe, Sally Phillips, Lily Day, Juanes, Jeremy Sisto

Director: Carlos Saldanha

Running Time: 107 Minutes

Rating: PG for Destruction Wrought by a Bull Who Refuses to Accept How Big He Is

Release Date: December 15, 2017

Based on Robert Lawson’s 1936 children’s book The Story of Ferdinand, the Blue Sky animated film Ferdinand is all about one of the most massive bulls in all of Spain. He is a beyond-perfect physical specimen for bullfighting, and in this country it goes without saying that calves spend their youths obsessing about the day they will get to face off against the matadors. But Ferdinand does not have the same pugnacious instinct as his peers. He would much rather spend his days on the farm, sniffing flowers, scarfing down carrots, and just hanging out with the preteen girl who dotes on him. But in a world that sees him as a beast, he must find a way to reconcile his hulking physicality with who he is on the inside.

Ferdinand the film, however, does not stick out from the pack as much as its titular character does. Its message of staying true to yourself is de rigueur in kids’ fare, and the CG animation, while certainly professional, does not pull off any truly lasting images. Thus, it lives and dies on the strength of its voice cast and the laugh-generating power of its gags. John Cena’s giant teddy bear persona is the correct vibe for Ferdinand, while Kate McKinnon is just right as the goat sidekick she’s versatile enough that she probably could have voiced any or all of the characters if the Ferdinand casting crew had been in the mood for that). While everyone else is at least adequate, the only significant standout is David Tennant as a heavily accented Scottish bull. Regarding the chuckles, there is some amusement to be had, as when Ferdinand sucks a caterpillar up his nose and sneezes it out as a butterfly or when the mostly blind owner of a china shop mistakes his tail for a feather duster.

Ferdinand also touches upon the fate of the bulls who are not deemed worthy of the bullfighting ring. I’m talking about the chop shop. This raises the question: are all films about talking animals secretly vegetarian propaganda? And if so, is that always, sometimes, or never intentional? A frequent, nigh-unavoidable trope of this genre is the slaughter that is just around the corner from failure or carelessness. When your lead character is an animal whose meat is favored by carnivores and omnivores, it is only natural to draw sympathy out of the threat of being eaten. Efforts to remain kid-friendly often result in daring escapes from pulverization as moments of triumph, and that is very much the case here. I do not mean to make a moral judgment one way or the other, but instead offer a philosophical pondering: are vegetarians drawn into working in the talking animal film business, or does the talking animal film business make its workers vegetarian?

Ferdinand is Recommended If You Like: Every Talking Animal Movie Ever

Grade: 2.5 out of 5 “Macarena”-Playing Flowerpots