PAW Patrol: The Movie isn’t explicitly copaganda, but it isn’t much else either: just toddler cinema designed to sell toys.
In their conversation about 3 Ninjas Kick Back, Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel had one of their funniest fights. They didn’t even disagree on the movie’s quality (bad), but when Ebert suggested that young children might enjoy it anyway, Siskel replied “dimwitted younger children.” Beyond whether or not it’s okay to insult the intelligence of children that might enjoy the movie, their conversation begs the question: what actually is the point of criticism on movies intended for toddlers? For the At the Movies hosts, ever the consumer advocates, the answer was generally to advise parents what they’d be in for taking their kids to the movies. But where does that leave us with PAW Patrol: The Movie, which is streaming on Paramount Plus on the same day as its theatrical release like so many other kids movies are now? When any parent can just put the movie on and walk out of the room, this flick might only be seen by young children unswayed by the opinions of critics older than their parents.
The other, usually superior option is to put PAW Patrol into a sociological context, pull at the threads of its ideology, describe and analyze its form. It is, after all, a movie that uses a cute puppy named Chase — he’s “on the case” — as a cuddly stand in for the police, released at a time when even the mainstream political establishment has shown wariness about the ethics and efficacy of policing. It exists, like so many kids movies, to sell toys based on its vehicles, which are things like tricked-out armored cop cars, a clear infantilization of police militarization. But is PAW Patrol really responsible for brainwashing children to trust the police and back the blue any more than standard preschool curriculum or any number of children’s books that elevate human cops to the status of community superheroes? Is it, in a word, copaganda? And is it possible to even ask that without coming off as a corny pill? The answer to all of these is no; this is a movie for three-year-olds that, put simply, doesn’t have coherent politics outside of advocating for basic virtues or agenda beyond marketing its own toys.
As for the plot, the movie finds the PAW Patrol, a superheroic group of puppies standing in for cops, firefighters, sanitation workers, and whatever else, saving people from inconveniences and near-death experiences, just like they do on TV, only this time they’re in the big city. Humdinger, a Trumpian figure and a cat person — this movie is alarmingly rude to felines — has been elected mayor and is up to all sorts of hare-brained evil. The PAW Patrol stops him with all manner of teamwork in brightly colored action scenes that seem way outside of the show’s usual budget. There’s some personal drama with a puppy expressing self-doubt and a stray dog wanting onto the team, but really it’s just more PAW Patrol — there’s just not much to it. It’s a modern superhero movie for toddlers, sure — it even borrows images from 2012’s The Avengers — a piece of IP designed to sell toys in an endless loop. Younger children, dimwitted or not, will likely be entertained and, thanks to day-and-date streaming, adults never have to sit through it. Tough to ask for much more; just to analyze it much more.
You can currently catch PAW Patrol: The Movie in theaters or stream it on Paramount Plus.