In a year when Barbie somehow became the world’s biggest box-office hit, a newer toy franchise — this one geared to preschoolers — has revved up for another outing of pint-sized heroics.
Currently in theaters, Paw Patrol: The Mighty Movie amps up the action and peril faced by the popular crew of first-responder pups ... but, not by much. Once again, Chase, Skye, and the rest of Ryder’s adorable canines work together and expose the baddies’ scheme in a tight 90-minute film.
This sequel extends the formula of the long-running animated show, which marked its 10th anniversary this year. A minor mishap occurs, the core team of seven characters rolls in on tricked-out vehicles (cue the merchandise tie-in) — each with unique skills like firefighting or flight — and their teamwork wins the day.
If your child is at least two and has some exposure to kids’ animated shows (preschool favorites in our home include The Cat in the Hat, Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, and Bluey), this latest Paw Patrol entry presents few content concerns. There is some cartoon peril, with multiple meteors raining down on a city; villains that steal and capture a puppy; and a small bit of bathroom humor that’s not egregious.
The Mighty Movie could even be a good first flick for a preschooler, especially if he or she knows the show. All things Paw Patrol come with a caveat about inherent commercialization — this is a franchise designed to sell toys, including a new aircraft carrier introduced in this movie.
A mini-patrol of three more fluffy doggos also get screen time, so kids may ask for those action figures. It’s a learning opportunity to say no and need not overshadow a kindhearted story about not letting height or any physical limitation define you.
What about the ‘agenda sneaking in’ to Paw Patrol?
Some corners of conservative commentary have raised concerns about these impossibly resourceful and cute pups. Beyond the bright police lights, loud fire sirens, and incessant theme song that easily get grating, other agendas are apparently afoot.
Content watchdogs cite that Rubble & Crew, a TV spin-off of the still-running flagship series, recently introduced a “nonbinary dog” named River in its 16th episode.
The script was written by self-proclaimed "queer activist" Lindz Amer, who hailed the show for its “representation” in a social post. The character’s sexuality isn’t directly addressed in the story, but the dog wears white-pink-and-blue-striped socks, similar to the "trans" flag.
Rubble & Crew has been a popular entry in preschool TV — launching with big ratings on Nickelodeon this February and not yet on streaming — so this development is worth considering. But parents have to ask if one episode of a spin-off is worth ditching a franchise that’s run for 235 episodes over 10 years, more or less without incident.
On the flip side, left-leaning voices have for years claimed Paw Patrol portrays law enforcement too positively. “These paws uphold the laws!” police dog Chase often exclaims, though such themes aren’t heavy-handed in the show. It’s led to some calls for boycotts in recent years.
Perhaps political lenses — whether tinted red or blue — can taint what’s essentially an innocent (and, yes, highly commercialized) kids series.
The Mighty Movie is benign, clean fun
In this adventure, female pup Skye is set up as the central protagonist. Kids see how she is self-conscious about her small size, including flashbacks to when she first joined the team.
It’s a welcome change in a franchise where one pup (Chase) gets about 4x more missions and screen time than any other character.
Three popular current music artists recorded new songs for the soundtrack, with Christina Aguilera performing "Learning To Fly," a ballad for Skye, and Mckenna Grace singing "Bark to the Beat." Rap/pop artist Bryson Tiller comes in hot with "Down Like That," which gets its own music video.
It’s a catchy anthem about a family (of pups, in this case) sticking together despite the challenges thrown at them.
The song’s lyrics hint at a level of peril that’s barely present in the movie. “(You) push us around . . . You’re never gonna break this crew.” At one point, villains leave a pup in a plane that’s about to crash. But in this fantasy reality, the pup lands it. All the while, music cues tell toddlers things will be OK.
One gets the sense that merchandising got the most thought when it came to crafting this movie. But there is one moment that encapsulates its teamwork message nicely.
Pup Teamwork Makes the Dream Work
After all but one of the pups’ “crystals” is stolen, their newfound superpowers are squelched. In a clash with the villains — including a “mad scientist” voiced by Taraji P. Henson, who’s obviously enjoying herself — only one of the pups can use their powers.
They solve the dilemma by passing the one crystal back and forth to each other, allowing each pint-sized hero to play a role in defeating the bad guys with his or her unique abilities. It’s a nice moment in a movie that’s fairly forgettable.
On a rainy day with the tots, Paw Patrol: The Mighty Movie could be just the ticket for an outing with a few laughs. Like bubblegum, it’s a franchise best consumed in small doses.
Image: Paramount Pictures
Josh M. Shepherd covers culture, faith and public-policy issues for various media outlets. He and his wife are raising two children in Northern Virginia.