Less kiddie fare than cultural landmark, PAW Patrol seemed almost to leap from obscurity to phenomenon overnight when in launched in 2013. You may not know their names but there can be few left who don’t recognise the pups from Adventure Bay on sight. Now graduating to the big screen, Chase, Skye, Ryder and crew show no signs of slowing their domination. It’s not hard to see why. They’re cute, likeable and kinda cool. While youngsters will lap up the film’s slapstick humour and derring-do, parents may find comfort in the pups’ more thoughtful approach to saving the world.
For the uninitiated, PAW Patrol is the Keith Chapman created TV toon about a 10 year old boy and the crew of search and rescue puppies he leads. United in bravery, the PAW Patrol use special skills in policing, firefighting and aviation – among others – to protect their idyllic home on Adventure Bay. It’s all a little frenetic, and very commercially viable, but strikes the right comic chords. Criticism spans from petitions against the show’s lack of gender equality to unusually vitriolic broadsheet attacks on its alleged promotion of capitalist privatisation. You can’t win ‘em all.
This new film does, however, at least make headway in tackling the franchise’s poor track record on female representation, with the introduction of Marsai Martin voiced Liberty. She’s the street-smart miniature dachshund we meet as the pups move their operation from Adventure Bay to the nearby metropolis, in which long-term foe Mayor Humdinger (Ron Pardo) has taken control.
None too subtle comparisons to a recently ousted US President see Humdinger win his landslide election on the back of absurd, populist promises. Once in power, the top-hatted buffoon’s policies threaten lives. He even builds an odious tower in honour of his own name and brand. In a world where dogs quite happily communicate with humans, it’s taken very much as red that the PAW Patrol will sweep in and pick up the pieces.
Less enthused with the move from Bay to City is Chase (voiced by Young Sheldon’s Iain Armitage). Indeed, it’s a surprisingly impactful plot strand that sees writers Billy Frolick, Bob Barlen and Cal Brunker – who also directs – explore an origins story for the popular pup hinged on PTSD. The traumas of Chase’s past quickly catch up on him in Adventure City and the film does exceedingly well in conveying the message that one cannot simply be expected to muscle through. Only with time, support and reassurance is Chase able to move forward. Something we can all learn from.
Neatly balancing the film’s down beats, laughs come hard and fast in the form of running gags (tumbling trousers!) and the odd wink to camera (merchandising!). Jimmy Kimmel voices balding news anchor Marty Muckraker, whose hair just won’t stay put, whilst Yara Shahidi has fun in the role of a scientist repeatedly forced to dumb down her jargon. Kim Kardashian even rocks up, as the sassy poodle Chase encounters during a brief stint in canine juvie. Brief being the operative word. That said, it is a success of the film that its episodic antics meld well into a cohesive whole. PAW Patrol: The Movie never feels like an overlong episode and boasts animated verve and bombast enough to earn its cinematic chops.
At just under ninety minutes in length, PAW Patrol boasts breezy fun for a cloudier day in the Summer holidays. Parents would do well to avoid all toy shops for the foreseeable future but won’t regret the viewing experience. It was a packed auditorium of youngsters that filled this critic’s screening of the film and the giggles never seemed to stop. As reviews go, you can hardly say fairer that that.