Animated Movie

PAW Patrol: The Mighty Movie

The “Paw Patrol” television series is designed with a single-minded focus to (1) get kids to identify with the characters and (2) get parents to buy toys, t-shirts, books, hoodies, underwear, toothbrushes, birthday party decorations, watches, and so many more toys. It is exceptionally skillful at building enough tension before a reassuring laugh or satisfying save. And like Smurfs or Disney’s Seven Dwarfs, the pups have just enough one-attribute personalities (clumsy, hungry, etc.) to be easy to connect to and to generate a catchphrase kids can anticipate. The stories are empowering, with the young characters saving the day with their courage and mastery of cool technology. There are some nice lessons about confidence and teamwork, a more-funny-than-scary villain, and impressive guest stars voicing minor characters, including Kristen Bell, James Marsden, Lil Rel Howery, and Kim Kardashian (as a pampered poodle social media star) and her children. But when I smiled, it was more often remembering the Oscar Isaac sketch about Paw Patrol on “Saturday Night Live” than about what was on screen. 

In the world of “Paw Patrol,” a collection of assorted Justice League-style puppies led by a 10-year-old boy named Ryder (newcomer Finn Lee-Epp) perform every possible rescue needed in Adventure City by air, land, and water. They are the Police Department, the Fire Department, and the Coast Guard. Kids can identify with Ryder because he’s a child, but they can also imagine themselves in his role as a kind of patient, benevolent parent. He’s independent (we never see Ryder’s family), supremely capable (masterminds technology the Pentagon would envy), and ever-encouraging but always prioritizes the pups’ safety. And he constantly reminds them of the importance of teamwork.  

The lovely young actress Mckenna Grace voices Skye, who takes center stage here as Chase did in the first film (then voiced by Iain Armitage, now by Christian Convery). Skye is brave, resilient, dedicated, and supremely capable like the other pups. But she is still struggling with feelings of inadequacy going back to her earliest days as the runt of a litter, the only one who was not adopted. Left behind, she ran away to follow Ryder but got stuck in the snow. He rescued her and made her part of the group. It bothers her that the other pups are growing bigger, but she is not. 

Taraji P. Henson is a delight as this film’s villain, Victoria Vance, with a delicious evil laugh. Victoria keeps insisting she is not a mad scientist, but as we see her using magnetism to pull meteors out of orbit, that’s what she is. Those meteors have a mysterious power source that will become central to the storyline. Fans of frequent Paw Patrol nemesis, former mayor and cat-lover Humdinger (Ron Pardo), will be glad to see him turn up as Victoria’s cell-mate, who helps her escape from jail. 

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