PAW Patrol: The Movie gives the franchise’s popular characters the feature film treatment. The animation and action supply enough entertainment for the movie’s intended audience, with some particular moments that clearly benefit from a larger budget. PAW Patrol unfortunately leaves a few puppies behind, and rescue events leave some to be desired from the fluffy heroes. Overall, the film sets forth a coherent and organized story that leans on the pre-existing success of its brand. While it is not unforgettable, it is decent, and its portrayal of emotional trauma in its lead character does allow it to stand out.
The PAW Patrol is a group of puppies, led by a human boy named Ryder, who specialize in search and rescue-type operations. Each puppy has a specific set of skills that render them big-eyed icons of emergency and/or municipal services professions such as a police officer, a firefighter, or a pilot. There’s even a recycling-focused puppy. More importantly, each puppy has an elaborate vehicle with every possible function and tool in existence that might even put Transformers to shame.
The group ordinarily works together on missions in their hometown of Adventure Bay, but they are called to action in nearby Adventure City by newcomer puppy Liberty because the notoriously bad Humdinger has become the mayor of the City and his newfound position generically threatens the City. While Mayor Humdinger has several snafus to keep the PAW Patrol employed throughout the movie, the main threat is his abuse of a cloud-catching machine that ultimately creates a massive superstorm that threatens serious damage to Adventure City.
The appeal of PAW Patrol is, obviously, the cute puppies. The movie definitely devotes ample time to watching the puppies frolic around just for the sake of it, and each one has a dedicated identity and color-scheme to distinguish him from the others. Similar to franchises like Power Rangers or Care Bears, the intended audience likely has an easy time picking a favorite and latching on to her. If your favorite is not Chase the police dog, Skye the pilot, or Liberty the brand-new street-smart dog, PAW Patrol might be disappointing. Anyone watching the movie likely has some history with the crew, but if you are not familiar you might not have even learned several of the puppies’ names by the time the credits roll.
The PAW Patrol itself is without a doubt an innocent and fuzzy version of a superhero team, and the movie and franchise benefit from the comparison. Instead of fighting or having direct confrontation with a threat, however, the puppies are passive heroes. As rescuers in the form of, essentially, law enforcement, the underlying message of what a “hero” is in PAW Patrol is distinguishable from most of its more mature counterparts. Here, the value is in adhering to rules, following instructions, and knowing your place.
Typically, in the “hero” story, the hero’s worth is based on their individual merit and respective skills. In PAW Patrol, that message is greatly diluted if not mostly absent. The Patrol and their work are not actually a product of the puppies’ skills, unless you count driving some sort of car and pushing some buttons. All action in the movie is centered around the wildly extravagant and nearly omnipotent tank-like vehicle they each control. Because there is virtually no function that the vehicles do not have, all problems are immediate solved with some simple paw-to-button effort. Problem-solving or technical skills are not highlighted, and the cars can be better idols than the puppies.
But PAW Patrol is still shiny enough and had a satisfyingly organized plot to be effective for its intended viewers. Not only do you have the animation style that emphasizes how adorable baby animals can be, but watching the puppies take on the City with the most high-tech gear in existence provides enough fast-paced excitement. It is simple enough that a younger audience can keep up with it, and the new and larger setting likely distinguishes the movie from the television series. Plenty of the humor seems to rely on running jokes and gags that already-existing PAW Patrol fans would be familiar with, so the comedy in the movie probably hits the right note though does not steal the show.
Somewhat surprisingly, the movie depicts “danger” more aggressively than one would think. While there is generally nothing scary about any situation, there are a couple of moments that come across far more destructive and brutal than the puppy energy could match. The final rescue sequence is visually strong between the dark foreboding superstorm cloud in the sky, the rain, the lightning, a glowing puppy-led motorbike scaling a skyscraper, and a giant puppy-caused explosion in the sky.
Mayor Humdinger is an interesting character. While not unique to the movie, his political aspirations are what make him stand out to an older audience here. He is depicted as grandiose, self-indulgent, politically corrupt, media-obsessed, scientifically ignorant, generally incompetent, and has childlike immaturity. It is somewhat difficult—though maybe not for a child—to not immediately see a potential real-life counterpart. To the extent that a comparison of that sort can actually be made, it does add a curious additional layer to the story considering we are watching young puppies literally clean up his messes.
In any event, the real backbone and highlight of PAW Patrol is Chase the police dog’s emotional journey. Amongst the colorful puppy joyrides, Chase is forced to deal with the trauma of his past. Scarred by his abandonment in Adventure City as an even younger puppy, returning means relieving the fear and pain he thought he had left behind. It is a concept that is more than just glossed over, as Chase experiences actual panic attacks that almost cause some of the rescues to fail. The lead puppy ultimately feels worthless and unworthy of being a PAW Patrol member. Of course, it is all resolved by the end of the movie after Ryder’s encouragement allows Chase to accept his past as something that makes him stronger. Still, the movie gave the situation more depth and grit than expected, and the extra attention could potentially lead it to helping a younger audience cope with similar issues.
While the puppies go above and beyond to protect, PAW Patrol stays fairly average. There are no glaring defects in the movie itself and, in terms of adapting its source material into a feature-length film, it does a fine job at making the story coherent for the PAW Patrol uninitiated and still paced appropriately for those with background knowledge. At the end of the day, PAW Patrol’s key stand-out feature is its surprisingly genuine take on trauma and coping.