Review – Blazing Saddles For Kids? (“Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank”)

Way back in 2010, some writers got together with the intention of spoofing the legendary Blazing Saddles, but with a Black Samurai saving an Asian village. Even Mel Brooks was behind it. By 2014 things changed and by 2019, so did the original writers and producers. This is the result.

In a movie that was originally called Blazing Samurai, screenwriter Ed Stone (Happy, Texas) and newbie Nate Hopper have taken the 1974 Mel Brooks movie script and, beat by beat, fashioned a kids comedy from it – even lifting some of the same dialogue and scenes from it word for word. Don’t worry, Brooks gave his blessing and even lent his vocal talents to a character. If you know Blazing Saddles (and who doesn’t?) then you know the plot: in a land like feudal Japan which is inhabited solely by cats, evil and unscrupulous Ika Chu (voiced by Ricky Gervais), the Shogun’s official, wants his palace to be exquisite, but there’s a problem. . . the small village of Kakamucho below. If he wipes them out or gets the villagers to leave, he can level their town. Sounds simple, right?

And he’s got to do this fast, as his boss, the powerful Shogun (Brooks) is coming soon. Ika instructs his dim-witted sidekick, Ohga (George Takei), to find an awful samurai to “protect” the citizens of Kakamucho, and as luck would have it, an inept and despised DOG wanders into their camp! Hank (Michael Cera) is a bumbling dog who wants to be a samurai in a land where no dogs are allowed; what a perfect fool for Ika to throw at the townspeople below! Hank, once the local samurai (i.e. sheriff) of Kakamucho, meets Jimbo (Samuel L. Jackson), a former samurai who’s now a drunken has-been. Cue Hank’s samurai training montage (“This is the training montage, isn’t it?”).

Ika’s plans aren’t working, so he sends in more bad guys, including a gigantic fat cat named Sumo (Djimon Hounsou) to take out Hank. Ika then woos Hank with some nightclub action (a place called “Lillys”–get it?), but it’s just a smokescreen as Kakamucho is overrun by baddies. . . again! Of course, there’s the requisite ‘second act break-up followed by a third act reconciliation scene we all can see coming. The jokes come fast ‘n’ furious and are either dumb, “dad” jokes, or occasionally land perfectly, but coupled with all the clever sight gags thrown around and the homages to Blazing Saddles for the adults in the audience, it can be forgiven.

The movie is fast-paced, thanks to directors Rob Minkoff (animated The Lion King), newbie Mark Koetsier, and Chris Bailey (Runaway Brain short). It’s filled with self-referential lines (“We’re only 85 minutes long”), cat & dogs jokes aplenty and, if you’re a fan of the 1974 movie, you’ll have a fun time picking out all the Easter Eggs. Ika’s recruiting bad cats from everywhere was my favorite! The animation isn’t bad and there’s lotsa stuff for the kids like fart, butt, & poop jokes that they all crave. They’ll also love the character of Emiko (Kylie Kuioka), a little girl cat who is not only the smartest one in the room, but a skilled samurai as well. They could do an entire movie spin-off on her alone!

**Now showing in theaters only 

Blazing Saddles (1974)

Is there anybody on the planet who hasn’t seen this movie? Forever known as his comedy masterpiece, this Mel Brooks outrageous Western broke all the rules and set box office records ablaze. Brooks has even said that he wants to bring Blazing Saddles to Broadway! Hell, why not?! The wacky story of a Black sheriff (the excellent Cleavon Little) bringing law and order to the town of Rock Ridge, and the unscrupulous Hedley Lamarr (a perfectly cast Harvey Korman) who tries to stop him, is just pure comic genius.

Credited to five writers, including the late, great Richard Pryor, Brooks co-wrote, directed, and starred as not only an Indian chief, but as the crossed-eyed Governor William J. LePetomane, who decides, along with Lamarr, that hiring a Black sheriff that everyone will hate will forever cement his name in the chronicles of history. But the plan backfires as Sheriff Bart (Little) finds himself an ally in a recovering alcoholic and quick-draw master, The Waco Kid (Gene Wilder at his best). Even Lamarr’s cronies, like the dumb, but powerfully strong Mongo (Alex Karras) and the German song siren Lili VonShtupp (Madeline Kahn, vamping like Marlene Dietrich), can’t stop the intrepid sheriff.

Soon Bart and the Kid discover that the railroad is coming through the town of Rock Ridge and that’s why Lamarr wants the people to leave. In a wild and wacky ending, a fake town is built to fool the bad guys, but all bets are off when a massive fight scene goes south (literally) in the Warner Bros studios backlot, which spills over into a gay dance routine in progress, and then into the streets of downtown Burbank, and then ending at Hollywood’s world-famous Graumann’s Chinese Theater! Nobody saw that coming!

Tasty Trivia: Originally Sheriff Bart and The Waco Kid were supposed to be Richard Pryor and John Wayne. Pryor was fired by the studio (drug use and always late) and Wayne didn’t like the script; he said it was “too dirty” for his clean-cut family image. Gene Wilder was brought in for Jim (aka The Waco Kid) after one day’s shooting after actor Gig Young was released, due to his failing health.

Actress Hedy Lamarr actually sued for the lampooning of her name in the movie. Brooks and Lamarr settled out of court “for a small sum”. Look for Brooks in a very brief cameo as a biker in the “initiation” scene when the camera is showing all the candidates for hire. Warner Bros. studio demanded that Brooks take out all the “N-words” and the “fart scene”, but he refused to do so since he had complete creative control (and final cut!) in his contract.

The original titles of the movie were Tex X, Purple Sage, and Black Bart. There was a pilot for a TV series based on the movie called Black Bart, starring Louis Gosset, Jr. as Bart and Steve Landesberg as his drunkard sidekick, a former Confederate officer named Reb Jordan. Since Brooks had nothing to do with it, it sucked big time. You can see this pilot on YouTube and on special DVD’s and Blu-Rays.

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