Learning to be a hero can be a funny thing.
Set in a remote village during the age of the samurai, Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank tells the story of Hank (Michael Cera), a struggling young hound who yearns to become a hero. When he’s hired as the town samurai in an area filled with cats, the inexperienced pup finds himself in over his head and in need of a mentor. Enter his reluctant teacher, Jimbo (Samuel L. Jackson), a once-great master who has fallen on hard times. As Hank enters into his contract with Jimbo, soon he must jump into action as a ruthless villain (Ricky Gervais) attempts to wipe their village off the map.
Although Paws of Fury seems like a carbon copy of the long running Kung Fu Panda franchise, the two storys are very different in their style and execution. Yes, the story of an unworthy animal taking on the role of samurai feels familiar but Fury’s penchant for self-awareness keeps the film fresh. In a lot of ways, the film is as much of a parody of western and samurai films as much as it seeks to emulate them. Fueled by meta-humor and rapid-fire jokes, Fury understands the tropes of the genre and addresses them with a winking eye. (At one point, as the music swells, Hank even pauses to point out that this ‘must be the part of the film for the training montage’.) Although the film may lean too heavily on ‘potty jokes’ in parts—the final battle takes place on a toilet, for example—there’s a surprising sharpness to the film that keeps it entertaining.
Although admittedly some of the performances lack bite (looking at you, Gervais), Fury is anchored by an absolutely fun pairing in Cera and Jackson. Throughout his career, Michael Cera has crafted his own unique style of humour and his self-deprecating nature works well for the inexperienced Hank. Held up against Samuel L Jackson’s no-nonsense Jimbo (a subtle nod to Kurosawa’s Yojimbo), Cera’s ‘fish out of water’ energy brings balance to their performances and there’s some genuine chemistry between the two veterans.
At its heart, Fury speaks to the importance of humility. After Hank finally seems to have some success, it goes straight to his ego. Beginning to believe the hype about himself, he insists that he has already achieved greatness. But his inability to see the truth about himself makes him reckless. Missed training sessions and general arrogance causes Hank to make mistakes that potentially damage the same people he’s called to protect. (“Pride comes before a fall,“ warns Jimbo.) As such, Fury recognizes that true greatness begins when we’re willing to own our weaknesses as well as our strengths.
Where Fury succeeds most, however, is in its call to see past the external. Here, almost every character seems to be judged by their appearance (and for different reasons). Because he’s a dog, the people don’t consider Hank to be an appropriate choice for their samurai. At the same time, Emiko (Kylie Kuioka) is not taken seriously by the townsfolk because of her gender and age. (Even Jimbo is largely considered a failure because of his catnip habit and out of shape physique.) In this way, Fury addresses the pain and ignorance caused by racial and gender stereotypes. Due to their own blinders, the citizens of this world refuse to believe that anything—or anyone—different is as good as they are. However, as they begin to see past the appearances of others, so too do they begin to see the value in one another. In fact, they even begin to celebrate each other‘s differences. (For instance, at one point, Jimbo even realizes that he must train Hank to use his unique skills as a dog to be the best samurai that he can be as opposed to his more traditional ‘cat training’.)
Although it doesn’t have the seriousness or emotional impact of some other recent kids fare, Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank has a fire to it that makes it work. Fast and furry-ous with its humor, the film’s endless stream of silliness and pop culture references keeps the film moving and should delight children of all ages.
Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank is available in theatres on Friday, July 15th, 2022.