Sunday, August 22, 2021

PAW Patrol: The Movie

One of the most successful toy brands in recent years is Spin Master’s PAW Patrol, about a group of pups with transforming vehicles who go on rescue missions, thanks mainly to its popular tie-in animated series on Nick Jr. While I fall well outside the target demographic, I have seen a handful of random episodes in the background while performing other tasks, and I can see why the show is popular with said demographic. When a theatrical film, PAW Patrol: The Movie, was announced, I was a little curious to see how they would adapt the formulaic nature of the series into a cinematic experience, however my curiosity was piqued when I read an interview in Animation Magazine about the production and the steps that were taken to make it worthy of a theatrical presentation. After watching the movie through Paramount+, I felt that it succeeded in this way, as I found it to be far better than I expected.

After a rescue on the outskirts of Adventure Bay, the PAW Patrol are contacted by a daschund pup named Liberty (Marsai Martin) in Adventure City. Mayor Humdinger (Ron Pardo) has somehow managed to get himself elected mayor of Adventure City and his plans for the city inadvertently threaten to throw it into chaos. As the PAW Patrol prepare to leave, Chase (Iain Armitage) hesitates, since his past in Adventure City brings up bad memories for him. Ryder (Will Brisbin), however, tries to convince him that things will turn out okay.

Though a little predictable, the surprisingly compelling and comparatively more serious tone of the story allows it to feel more like a movie rather than simply an extended episode of the series, though some elements of the original formula are present. While still an ensemble work, the heavier focus on Chase and his character development gives the film a more focused narrative, one that can actually hit you emotionally at times. The new character Liberty is also a great addition to the cast, even if she’s only a one-off character, as she contributes to the adventure in an organic way without taking over the plot. Despite the more serious tone, the original series’ sense of humor is intact and provides a good balance of levity, even including a funny meta joke about PAW Patrol merchandising. The story is also fortunately written in such a way that even those who aren't familiar with the series, or those with only a passing knowledge of it such as myself, can follow what's happening without any issue.

Chase (Iain Armitage, foreground left) is the focus of the story.
Background from left: Skye (Lilly Bartlam), Rocky (Callum Shoniker),
Rubble (Keegan Hedley), Zuma (Shayle Simons), Marshall (Kingsley Marshall)
Foreground right: Ryder (Will Brisbin)

Taking advantage of the increased budget, the original art style is also intact, with some additional lighting and bloom effects as well as more realistic fur, clothing, metal and smoke effects. Some aspects of the pups were also given a small upgrade to allow for more realistic animations, including some minor realistic detailing on the pups’ faces as well as their hind legs being brought more in line with that of a real dog’s, the latter of which was highlighted in the Animation Magazine interview. As per the nature of PAW Patrol as a Spin Master property, there were a good number of shots that felt like a toy commercial, including focus shots of the PAW Patrol Adventure City Lookout Tower and some scenes that show off the capabilities of the PAW Patrol’s new vehicles, however they are worked in just enough that they don’t detract too much from the narrative. That said, parents watching the movie with their children may start feeling a hole burning in their wallets by the time it’s over.

From doing quick research, the series is no stranger to voice actor changes, and a few were even recast for this movie, however the voices for the main characters all work well enough for their respective characters. Iain Armitage of Young Sheldon fame, replacing current series voice actor Justin Paul Kelly, brings a lot of emotional depth to Chase’s character and Will Brisbin’s take on Ryder, replacing current series voice actor Beckett Hipkiss, has some really great chemistry with him that perfectly suits the storyline. Ron Pardo also knocks it out of the park as Mayor Humdinger, having voiced the character throughout the show’s run. The voice cast also includes a few other celebrity voice actors in minor roles, presumably to have big names in the advertising, though I have to wonder why some of them, including Kim Kardashian Smith and Tyler Perry, were necessary considering how minor their roles were. That said, Jimmy Kimmel was a surprisingly great choice for the role of news anchor Marty Muckraker, as he has some of the best lines in the movie while speaking backhandedly about Mayor Humdinger. Of course, the PAW Patrol theme is also present at the beginning and end of the movie, even making its way into the rest of film in smaller ways.

Given the series’ target demographic, PAW Patrol: The Movie is not for everyone, however the surprisingly strong storyline and the high-quality animation provide something for adult viewers to like about it, even for those unfamiliar with the series. That said, those who fall within the target demographic will definitely get a lot more enjoyment out of it.

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