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Michael Cera Reveals The Connection Between Paws Of Fury And This Mel Brooks Classic - Exclusive

The new animated film "Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank" is set in a small village called Kakamucho in what looks very much like feudal Japan, except that the countryside is populated by cats. On a hill nearby is the massive residence of a local official named Ika Chu (voiced by Ricky Gervais), who can't stand the fact that the village is blocking the magnificent view from his palace windows.

With a visit from the ruling shogun (Mel Brooks) imminent, Ika Chu engineers an attack on the town by a group of ronin and then installs a hapless dog named Hank (Michael Cera) as its samurai, calculating that the combination of more attacks and having a dog as the town's sole protector will drive the villagers out. But Ika Chu doesn't factor in that Hank's resilience and the help of a retired samurai (Samuel L. Jackson) — who becomes Hank's sensei — could help the canine save the town.

If any of this sounds familiar to older readers, that's because "Paws of Fury" started life under a different name (via Variety): "Blazing Samurai." If that rings a bell as well, it's because the movie is a homage to — and partial remake of — "Blazing Saddles," a beloved comedy from 1974 co-written and directed by Mel Brooks. In fact, Brooks and his fellow writers get a screenwriting credit on "Paws of Fury," while Brooks' shogun is a much more family-friendly version of the drunken governor he played in the original.

Confused? Don't be. You don't need to see "Blazing Saddles" to enjoy "Paws of Fury," although Michael Cera told Looper that he appreciates the connection: "It was so cool that this was happening and that [Brooks] was involved in it."

Michael Cera was a fan of Blazing Saddles and Mel Brooks

Mel Brooks and his collaborators conceived of "Blazing Saddles" as a spoof of the Western genre (per Yahoo!) in which the white residents of a small frontier town object strenuously to the arrival of a Black sheriff (Cleavon Little). Like Hank in "Paws of Fury," the new lawman has been unwittingly sent there by a local government official (Harvey Korman) so he can wreck the town and grab the land, which will soon be worth millions when a new railroad comes through.

It's been said — by Brooks himself (via DGA Quarterly) — that "Blazing Saddles" could not be made today, with its frequent use of the "n" word, its barrage of raunchy and flatulent humor, and its deliberately tasteless sight gags and anachronistic references. "Paws of Fury" manages to recreate the story and basic themes in a different setting, with humor and sight gags much more appropriate for family audiences.

But anyone familiar with the earlier movie should be able to pick up on the DNA of "Blazing Saddles" in the new film, as Michael Cera did. "I grew up loving all things Mel Brooks and loved 'Blazing Saddles' and loved 'High Anxiety' and 'Spaceballs' a lot," he said. "Those were the ones that I watched over and over. He meant so much to me. It was so cool that this was happening and he was involved in it, and that it was this semi-homage and continuation, in a way, of his tone."

"Blazing Saddles" is, like a number of Mel Brooks' movies, now considered a comedy classic. But it's fascinating to see that its underlying theme of overcoming bigotry to work together for a greater good has made the jump to "Paws of Fury." Almost 50 years later, the tale of "Blazing Saddles" lives on — only now in not one, but two movies.

"Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank" is out in theaters now.