'Blazing Saddles' + animation = 'Blazing Samurai'
Can a massive theatrical animated hodgepodge make a massive theatrical animated anthropomorphic hit? That’s what a lot of people are hoping when Blazing Samurai, an animated pastiche of the 1974 Mel Brooks comedy Blazing Saddles, only with samurai in Old Japan instead of cowboys in the Old West and animated cats and dogs instead of humans, hits the theaters in August 2017.
How much of a hodgepodge is it? Blazing Samurai is announced as the first feature produced by former Sony Pictures Vice Chairman Yair Landau’s Mass Animation online company, founded in August 2008 to “develop wikimovies and content using a new production model – a virtual animation studio and an open invitation to artists around the world to collaborate in creating the next generation of animated stories.” Mass Animation has attracted “over 58,000 participants from 101 countries”, and has produced the 5-minute “Live Music”, advertised as “the first ever theatrically released crowdsourced animated film”.
Blazing Samurai is being co-produced by Mass Animation; China’s Huayi Brothers Media Corporation, one of China’s largest film and television studios; veteran animation director Rob (Disney’s The Lion King) Minkoff’s Flying Tigers Entertainment; and London-based GFM Films. Arc Productions in Toronto, Canada (the 2011 CGI animated feature Gnomeo & Juliet) is the lead animation producer. Landau’s Mass Animation has assigned Blazing Samurai to co-producers Susan Purcell (in-house) and Minkoff. The co-directors are Chris Bailey (Alvin and the Chipmunks; Garfield) and Mark Koetsier, a veteran Disney animator.
Mel Brooks, who created 1974’s Blazing Saddles, is one of the executive producers of Blazing Samurai. He is also one of its voice actors as Shogun, the benevolent but ineffectual cat town leader of Kakamucho. Other cats are Jimbo (Samuel L. Jackson), an elderly samurai; huge Sumo (Djimon Hounsou); Little Mama (Sandra Tsing Loh), the town “grand dame”; and Yuki (Michelle Yeoh), mother of 5-year-old samurai-wannabe kitten Emiko. But the movie’s star is Hank (Michael Cera), a lone dog who gets Jimbo to train him to be a samurai to fight the cat villains led by Ika Chu (Ricky Gervais). Other voices are George Takei, Gabriel Iglesias and Aasif Mandvi.
Can all of these big names make a big movie? That’s what they’re all hoping. For youngsters who don’t remember Blazing Saddles, comparisons with DreamWorks Animation's Kung Fu Panda movies will substitute. We’ll see in August 2017.