When you think of promising team-ups, Samuel L. Jackson and Michael Cera is probably not the first place your mind goes to. Samuel L. Jackson and Dwayne Johnson? Sure. Samuel L. Jackson and Bruce Willis? A number of times. Samuel L. Jackson and any random member of the Marvel Cinematic Universe? Inevitably. But given the sheer volume of work that the recent Honorary Governors Award recipient puts out, he is bound to be partnered with virtually every living actor at some point. And so Michael Cera lucked out to be partnered with Samuel L. Jackson in the upcoming animated Paramount film Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank. As for what they will be doing in this movie, here is the trailer, see for yourself:
So let us break it down here a little bit. Samuel L. Jackson is a samurai who is down on his luck and takes in Hank (Michael Cera) who is looking for a mentor. Also, it seems everyone is either a cat or a dog. All of this is well and good, because if you are going to have an animated samurai movie featuring the voice talents of Snakes on a Plane and Superbad, it might as well be anthropomorphized animals. It honestly looks like a pretty straightforward good time, in which the good-hearted but clumsy/foolish/shy hero (Cera, obviously) learns to harness his unknown talents and defeats a bad guy. In the case of Paws of Fury, that bad guy is voiced by Ricky Gervais, who plays a cat who manipulates the goodhearted Hank into doing his bidding by becoming the sheriff of a small village.
Aside from Samuel L. Jackson and Michael Cera, Paws of Fury has a pretty amazing voice cast that includes martial arts legend Michelle Yeoh (currently riding a wave of critical acclaim for Everything Everywhere All at Once), Djimon Hounsou, Gabriel Iglesias, and comic legend Mel Brooks. The lattermost is important, as Paws of Fury is directly based on Brooks’ 1974 comedy Western Blazing Saddles (and at one point was even titled Blazing Samurai). The cultural back and forth between Westerns and martial arts films is a long one, best exemplified by the Yojimbo and The Magnificent Seven and continuing on to the present. And in this case, continuing on to a cartoon cat voiced by Nick Fury teaching the art of Bushido to a cartoon dog played by Scott Pilgrim.
It will be interesting to see how exactly Paws of Fury maps over the plot of Blazing Saddles, given that the latter was a famously transgressive comedy work primarily by Mel Brooks and Richard Pryor at the height of their powers. While the animation work looks interestingly abstract and there is never anything wrong with watching cartoon animals wave swords at each other, it feels like it might not exactly match up. And really, what possibly could? On the other hand, the trailer did give us Samuel L. Jackson doing this, so it can’t be all that bad.