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Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank
I had known coming into the film one of the gimmicks behind Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank, but wanted to experience it for myself to see what it is and sure enough, it's fun, but hadn't the animated family film with martial arts been done before, several times in fact? Kung Fu Panda had it done and buried awhile back, but here we are doing old things with new wrinkles I guess.
Rob Minkoff (The Lion King) is lead director from a screenplay written by Ed Stone and Nate Hopper, with additional credits to Mel Brooks, Norman Steinberg, Andrew Bergman, Richard Pryor and Alan Uger. And if that quintet sounds familiar to you, it's because they wrote Blazing Saddles, so yes, this is a loose tribute to the 1974 classic, with nods to the 1990s Sega game I guess in the title and concept. The animated film centered on Hank (voiced by Michael Cera, Youth in Revolt), a canine outcast who is sent to a town full of cats in order to save it from Ika Chu (Ricky Gervais, The Lion Invention of Lying), the Harvey Korman equivalent. The Gene Wilder equivalent is Jimbo (Samuel L. Jackson, The Lion King), a large cat addicted to catnip, but still has some skill. Perhaps Jimbo and Hank turn the tide for the town? Who knows>
So, now that the cat's out of the bag (he he), you know that there are going to be more than a few nods to the Brooks western, and for sure there are, either large swaths of plot devices aside from the main story, or more subtle ones (the whole Dom DeLuise third act thing isn't included here, but a character jumping "into" a movie theater is the closest thing to it, for example). But the film also juggles a couple of balls in the air, one being your kung-fu background, and Hank trying to learn how to be a fighter, but there's another one underneath that, which is the one where the characters try to do fourth wall-breaking things. I'd guess it's in order to make the film have some sort of appeal to adults (past the initial shock of wondering how a kid's film is going to negotiate subtle dong humor, a two minute fart sequence or Ku Klux Klan outfits), but those moments are really more kind of "eh" reactions, which are like, ‘OK, that's fine, but where are you going with those?' And the answer is nowhere.
Upon further review, it looks like the film had gone through its share of pre-production hell, with a script written and distribution rights at the ready way back in 2015, but lots of change, plus *gestures in air at things from the last two plus years* and well, films can't recover from such things, whether they're a action film or something that Mel Brooks endorsed with his script and his voice, which he lends in the film in the same role that he had in Saddles, minus the blonde secretary.
While it irks me, it's not that I object to this modernizing of a comedy classic (heck, if I can gateway my kids into better funnier fare when they're older, so be it), but if you're going to commit to it, go all the way, and I'm never convinced that Paws of Fury does that. It wants to do all the cool things but hasn't earned the cache to do so, and becomes the beans in the pot, as we're all the evil henchmen eating and farting them away somehow.The Blu-ray:
Paramount's presentation of Paws of Fury is quite good, with colors reproduced loyally and images sharp with little bands or haloing to speak of from a months-old digital source. Looks clean, occasionally feels multidimensional, tremendous work as you would expect.The Sound:
Dolby Atmos for the movie, which employs quite a bit of space. It gets things like explosions, kung-fu battles and swordplay, some on a grand scale, and channels flow with ease as the viewer gets surrounded by clean, effective, well-balanced sound. Environmental noise is natural and convincing, dialogue is consistent through the feature, it all makes for a pleasant experienced.The Extras:
Not a heck of a lot; "Cool Cats and One Hot Dog" (9:02) examines the cast's thoughts on the story, the people they work with and the characters they inhabit, "In the Drawing Room" (19:02) looks at Minkoff's work creating the characters (and for a five-year-old I've begun to appreciate such features), and "Giving Voice to ‘Paws of Fury'" (8:07) looks at the studio sessions with the actors. Those and a digital copy are what you get in this package.Final Thoughts:
It's nice that you could put on a movie like Balls of Fury for your kid and they may like to watch some of the silliness involved, but it seems to know that you would want to show him where his movie came from, and you're not allowed to do so, and teases you for doing it. The disc looks and sounds great, but the extras are throwaways generally. If you want a Eastern-influenced animated film for your kids to watch, Kung Fu Panda has several which are all better than this.