Sunday, August 22, 2021

Furred Responders: PAW PATROL: THE MOVIE

PAW Patrol: The Movie is strictly kids’ stuff, and that’s what’s refreshing about it. Watching the feature film adaptation of a long-running Nickelodeon cartoon pitched squarely at preschoolers, I found myself charmed by its bold primary colors and the Fisher-Price textures to the rounded shiny CG animation (much better than the show’s cheap look) in a story about a team of first responders who are little dogs. The first scene finds a tanker truck dangling precariously over the edge of a suspension bridge. “Call the police!” the driver hollers. No can do, a witness shouts back. In this town, they have the PAW Patrol, puppies who zip around in emergency vehicles outfitted with little gadgets that help them save the day. There’s a cop pup, a fire pup, a helicopter pup, a recycling pup, and so on, color coordinated and in their own spiffy little outfits with distinct little personalities. They’re led by a plucky boy who somehow is their boss and supplies the tech. They drive into this cliched superhero scenario and rescue those in danger. They do a good job. It’s not hard to see why this town would defund the police and just fund a PAW Patrol instead. They all bark in squeaky kid voices and spend long sequences announcing their vehicles’ features—the better to advertise what’s now in a toy catalogue near you, I suppose. But there’s a grinning simple charm in seeing these dogs bop about their episodic adventures saving people—protecting and serving in ways first responders do at their best. It’s an easy-going movie, full of high-stakes peril in low-stakes presentations, a comforting professionalism and a squeaky-clean good-conquers-foolish tone.

Watching them do their thing, I realized how few superhero movies are accessible to actual children these days — they’re all dark and hectic and bloodlessly violent and over-plotted and stuffed with quips that can drip innuendo. When was the last time you saw a comic book hero merely save a vehicle from falling off a bridge? Or stop a puffed up egotistical incompetent mayor whose kooky ideas lead the citizens of his metropolis into regular danger? (When the mayor unveils the roller coaster loop he put in the middle of the subway route, he preens for the cameras, saying, “I’m an unqualified elected official! What could go wrong?”) Here the PAW Patrol is a civic-minded Avengers, saving people by driving out of their headquarters on an enormous Hot Wheels-style ramp and into gentle but bouncy adventure with mild jokes and easy lessons. Through the power of teamwork they’re putting out fires and pulling people out of floods and all sorts of things that honest-to-goodness real-life heroes do. After the year we’ve had, how nice to sell young families a cheery, earnest, clear message that caring about your fellow citizens builds a better world for us all. Even if it’s also hoping to sell merch along the way, it’s colorful and kind and quick. I suspect it won’t make many adult converts to the series, but it does what it does just well enough. I was glad to see it.

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