As anyone in the kingdom will tell you, cats are the chosen and enlightened ones of all animal kind. In fact, in all the land, they are the only animal to be found.
Well … almost.
There actually is one canine mongrel in Lord Ika Chu’s dungeons right now. But the mighty feline lord is unconcerned with such trivial vagaries.
All Ika Chu truly cares about is making his kingdom, his castle, as resplendent and wonderful as any in the land. He’s imported only the best mice to chase, the finest couches to claw and ruin. Why Ika Chu even built a king-sized bathroom with a gigantic working toilet. (He calls it the super bowl.)
Perhaps when the Shogun sees all that Ika Chu has accomplished, he’ll look upon him with favor and name him as successor to the shogunate. But there is one small unsightly problem: Just outside his castle grounds sits the ugly little village of Kakamucho. If the Shogun were to visit and perchance spot this eyesore, it would immediately diminish Ika Chu’s status. But what to do?
Then a most beautiful idea hits his catty brain.
Kakamucho needs a new samurai protector. So Ika Chu will send the dog in his prison. What did it call itself? Yes, yes, Hank! That’s it. The cats of the town will, of course, ferociously hate this Hank. They’ll hate the idea of Hank. They may even kill him if luck prevails. Then all of Ika Chu’s problems will be dealt with: The townspeople will be lawfully arrested, the town emptied and cleared, and the mongrel eliminated.
It’s good to be such a brilliant cat.
It’s good to be king.
And it will be good to be Shogun!
It turns out that Hank wants to be a samurai. That’s why he traveled to this cat domain. He was always bullied as a pup. But a cat samurai once saved him, and he longs to be just as heroic and good. Of course, that’s a tall bill to fill with the dog-loathing residents of Kakamucho. With effort, outside help and personal sacrifice, however, he learns that he can earn the cats’ trust and pull together the strength of the community.
Paws of Fury promotes a strong anti-prejudice message. Early on, for instance, cats guarding Hank mention that they always hated dogs, but they’re not completely sure why. “My dad always hated dogs. That’s good enough for me,” one intones. Another notes, “It just feels right to hate, ya’ know?”
Those feelings are initially mirrored by the village cats. But after they spend some time with Hank, those attitudes begin to change. At first, though, only the kittens of the town call for others to trust Hank. None do. But a former samurai, Jimbo, agrees to help. He declares, however, that he can’t teach a dog to be a cat. “I can only teach a dog to be a better dog.” So, he uses Hanks own abilities—his heightened senses of smell and hearing—to help him improve.
Hank is bumbling and untalented—even after being trained by Jimbo—but he tries to help and protect (especially after one big failure of trust on his part). The villagers see that valiant effort. And in small groups they secretly say thank you until everyone accepts Hank as one of their own. The townspeople work together to save innocent lives that are put in danger.
After many of his schemes and tricks fail, Ika Chu exploits Hank’s desire for fame and pulls him away to a Kitten Club. There, he’s celebrated by female cats who caress his arms and kiss his cheeks a bit suggestively.
At the beginning of the film, a cartoon narrative tells and shows us the brief story of a fabled Samurai. It declares that the famed fighter’s “nunchucks could pluck out an eye!” And in the swirling cartoony mix, a villain’s eyeball bounces free.
That intro sets the stage for all the thumping and bumping cartoony violence to come. Hank takes the brunt of much of that pummeling as he gets whacked in the face by pans, fists and lots of solid scenery. He falls off cliffs; slams into rock walls and trees; and ducks fiery arrows and throwing stars. And while battling a huge cat named Sumo, he’s swatted around a room and ends up being flattened by the huge cat’s meteoric leap—ending up wedged in the cat’s backside.
There are also huge battles against baddies sent to burn Kakamucho to the ground, and in one instance they almost succeed. People swing swords on and off horse back. Villagers are beaten and pinned to walls (by their clothes). An old woman is picked up by large bad guys who use her as a boxing speed bag.
Sumo wades through a crowd of scores of soldiers sending them flying in groups. He picks up a nearby cat and uses him like nunchucks. And at one point, an embattled Jimbo sends his friends off to safety as he stands behind to face some hundred surrounding soldiers.
Jimbo also tells a story of once mistaking someone’s surprise party for an ambush. “I not only ruined the biggest night of his life,” Jimbo bemoans. “I spayed and neutered his in-laws.” A flood nearly sweeps away and drowns a group of children (before they’re saved).
The strongest crudity here is a winking exclamation of “Dogda–it!” Single uses of “doggonit,” “oh my god,” “idiot,” “he’s a labradork” and “butt” show up as well.
And while not strictly profane, the movie plays on actor Samuel L. Jackson’s reputation for spitting the f-word in multiple R-rated films. At one point he blurts out: “What the mother-father-cocker-spaniel’s going on here?”
Jimbo obviously has a drinking problem of sorts, though the substance in question isn’t alcohol. After a past failure, he took to drinking liquid catnip—we see him brew the concoction—and it perpetually numbs his senses until he finally puts it aside.
Hank is taken to a Club by Ika Chu and we see other cats drink what appears to be that same catnip brew.
There’s quite a lot of potty humor in the story mix. Some bits are very visual, such as a flood caused by a giant overflowing toilet and troops of men lighting their explosive flatulence. Other gags involve verbal allusions, such as when Jimbo tells Hank, “Fear is only in your mind,” and then Hank replies: “And a little bit in my kimono.”
That name may not ring any bells for the young audience this film aims at—or perhaps some of their Millennial parents, for that matter. But the cinematic DNA of this 96-year-old comedian/actor/director/producer, who plays the Shogun, spreads all over this animated offering. In fact, Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank feels very much like a kid’s movie remake of Brooks’ classic, Blazing Saddles. (Only with cats, dogs and toilet gags toned down for the elementary school set.)
Now, that statement could have some older adults sitting up and thinking: “Oh, my.” But fear not, this is a cuter version of that ofttimes raunchy ‘70s comedy. Yeah, there’s still lots of cheesy, self-aware puns and gaseous potty humor lights up the darkened skies, but the winks and elbowed-ribs are more sanitized and kid-friendly to be sure.
Paws of Fury is fun and funny. And if you can endure the gassy giggles and winking comments, there are even some nice lessons about embracing people different from ourselves—even if they do wag their tail rather than purr.
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.