This is the story of Hank (Michael Cera), a kind and awkward dog who sets off on a lofty quest to fulfill his dream of becoming a samurai in a world where only cats have been allowed to follow the path of the warrior. In a twist of not-so-fortunate luck, he ends up in Kakamucho, a small village town in desperate need of a hero to help defend them. Trouble is, Hank must unknowingly defend them from the very man who sent him there, Ika Chu (Ricky Gervais). With an evil plot to wipe out the village, Ika Chu sets Hank up for failure. And, in dealing with the challenge of becoming a samurai, Hank also faces another apparently insurmountable obstacle… cats hate dogs. The cast also includes the voices of Samuel L. Jackson, Mel Brooks, George Takei, Aasif Mandvi, Gabriel Iglesias, Djimon Hounsou, Michelle Yeoh, Kylie Kuioka, and Cathy Shim.
Let me start off by saying that this film feels very familiar. The basic plot of Paws Of Fury has been seen in many variations within numerous films in the past. In many cases, this would make the experience of watching a film feel pedantic, but this time it strangely manages to create a sense of comfort… like an electric blanket on a cold winter night. There isn’t much to get excited about, but that doesn’t stop the experience from being entertaining. The incorporation of the antithetical nature of the cats & dogs dynamic helps keep the viewer wanting to see what creative moments the writers have come up with as the story moves forward.
What I liked most about Paws Of Fury is how consistent and well paced the film actually is, despite being such a familiar tale. At no point does it feel like it was dragging the viewer along. All of the plot progress beats played out as though written and edited perfectly to the beat of a metronome. With the various cats/dogs relationship comedy sprinkled throughout the film, it does well to serve as an entertaining hour and a half. Also impressive was how well the voices worked for the characters. It has been a while since I really felt that the voices were cast for the sake of the story instead of for advertising purposes. I was surprised at how well Ricky Gervais worked as an animated villainous feline. Samuel L. Jackson is always dependable as any character really, but can’t be more perfect as the weathered, resistant, tough as nails mentor figure. Michael Cera has the perfect delivery for an awkward outcast with lofty impossible dreams. Likewise, the entire cast is just perfectly pieces of the puzzle for this film.
One thing that I wasn’t fond of was the rather blunt use of “meta moments” in the beginning half of the film. One of the very first things we see is some characters from the world acknowledging that they are aware they are in a film as the title sequence comes to its conclusion. I’m not against the occasional cleverly subtle use of this device, but this film used several in your face meta moments that really disengaged me from the story. However, I will admit that I find myself of two minds in this particular case. As an adult, it was enough to pull ME out of the experience, but the kids who were watching seemed to really get a good laugh from it.
In the end, as an adult, Paws Of Fury might not be the mind-blowing overload of excitement that one would expect from a theatrical viewing, but it will definitely still entertain for 90 minutes. If you are looking for something to take the kids to see, it certainly won’t disappoint them. The numerous kids who were at my screening sure did get a kick out of it. Even my 4 year old son had a blast.