“PAW Patrol: The Movie,” subtitled lest young viewers get confused, is a movie based on the popular (or shall we say, pup-ular) children’s television series. The computer animated series — of the bright colors, big heads, and wide shimmering eyes variety — was created by “Bob The Builder” helmer Keith Chapman. Following a short stint in Muppets design at Jim Henson International, Chapman left to purse a career in advertising before creating the Bob the Builder character. After striking a licensing deal before the character’s successful TV debut, he launched “PAW Patrol” in 2013, another massive hit that was recently renewed for a ninth season on Nickelodeon. “PAW Patrol: The Movie” is the latest iteration of Chapman’s proprietary pup brigade.
To get a sense of Chapman’s artistic ethos: In an interview with The Guardian from 2005, Chapman touted his company, Chapman Entertainment, as an “attractive partner for people wanting to develop their intellectual properties.” Summing up his artistic philosophy, he added: “the closer involvement of creative talent can get more out of a property over the longer term.”
Chapman my have ceded creative control of “PAW Patrol: The Movie,” but his pawprints are all over Adventure City, the candy-colored metropolis in need of the PAW Patrol’s heroics. Before the movie came along, the show had an ardent critic in Liam Kennedy, a criminology professor who believes “PAW Patrol” “encourages complicity in a global capitalist system that produces inequalities and causes environmental harms.” While it’s doubtful the humorless dirge of a movie will make enough of an impression to mold young minds in any lasting way, the critique of “PAW Patrol” is useful as an amalgamation of certain favorite Hollywood themes that ought to be retired.
The titular PAW Patrol is a group of vigilante puppies — not dogs — presided over by a 10-year-old boy named Ryder. Like the Charlie’s Angels in puppy form, with Transformers-level gear that would give Dom Toretto a run for his money, the PAW Patrol responds to various disasters around their home town of Adventure Bay. The movie opens with the rescue of a truck driver (voiced by Tyler Perry), who dangles precariously off a bridge after swerving to avoid a baby sea turtle (a dead ringer for Crush from “Finding Nemo.”) When he begs a passerby to call the police or the fire department, a friendly local gleefully informs him: “You’re in Adventure Bay. Here we call the PAW Patrol!”
Not that “PAW Patrol” is anti-police, quite the opposite. The main pup, a fuzzy German Shepherd named Chase, is a police and traffic dog, explicitly styled in a blue hat and uniform. Having apparently upgraded from the scrappier digs of the TV show, the PAW patrol of the movie operates much like an over-funded police department in a futuristic technocratic state. They travel to Adventure City in what is essentially a luxury tour bus, arriving to a splashy new headquarters complete with robotic arms to outfit them in their super high tech spy suits. Each pup is outfitted with a souped up vehicle that can perform any number of technological feats, the most impressive being a pink fighter jet/helicopter combo belonging to Skye, the one girl pup in the group. Packing this much heat, these pups are no underdogs.
Attempting to correct the original group’s gender imbalance and extremely dated branding (everything about Skye, including her eyeballs, are pink), the movie adds a new player to the mix with the scrappy city dog Liberty (Marsai Martin). Though drawn as a purebred long-haired dachsund, Liberty roams the streets of Adventure City, a tough pup in a dog eat dog world. We’re supposed to pity her rickety old wagon, with one squeaky wheel. How could she ever hope to keep up with the PAW Patrol and all their go-go gadget robot arms?
The movie isn’t ashamed of its materialist urgings, it insists viewers ooh and ahh at its expensive machines. When one pup asks Ryder how they can afford their shiny new digs, he answers: “Officially licensed PAW Patrol merchandise. This stuff sells like hot cakes.” There’s not enough space to wink at the camera, the mechanical accomplice wholeheartedly approving Ryder’s capitalist message, he’s looking right at it.
Paramount Pictures releases “PAW Patrol: The Movie” in theaters on August 20.