Paw Patrol: The Movie 2021 Movie Review
Sometimes low expectations are a blessing.
No one will walk into “Paw Patrol: The Movie” expecting Pixar-level quality. And they’re not going to find it either (nor is it good enough to warrant taking an unvaccinated member of the target audience — in other words, any 5-year-old — into a movie theater when it is also available to stream through Paramount Plus). It is, however, a better movie than it needs to be, with some neat visuals, an outstanding score and a story that, while simple, is well told.
Based on the television show that your kid adores and you can’t stand, “Paw Patrol” starts off in Adventure Bay, a community that has defunded its public services to the point that they are now performed by those who will work for kibble and scratches. Five puppies, guided by human preteen Ryder (voice of Will Brisbin), provide protection and rescue services to fully grown people who seem fine with the situation. The de facto lead puppy is police dog Chase (“Young Sheldon’s” Iain Armitage), a German shepherd with soulful eyes and a dogged — sorry — sense of duty. When recurring antagonist Mayor Humdinger (Ron Pardo) steals an election and becomes mayor of nearby Adventure City, the group heads out on a road trip to prevent the chaos they’re sure will ensue. However, Chase is hesitant; it seems Adventure City was where Ryder rescued him, and the dog’s memories of the place aren’t good ones. While there, the pups link up with Liberty (Marsai Martin), a dachshund who’s a big fan of the group and provides the kind of low-to-the-ground intel only a wiener dog can.
Mayor Humdinger (voice of Ron Pardo, second from right) in “Paw Patrol: The Movie.” (Spin Master/Paramount Pictures)
The key to the movie’s success is that it takes itself just seriously enough; there’s nothing snide and nothing too cheesy. There’s a sweet earnestness at its core: When Chase is struggling, his concerns are met with empathy and the reassurance that it’s okay to be scared, and his friends and partners are there for him. Unfortunately, writers Bob Barlen, Billy Frolick and Cal Brunker (who also directs) leave most of the other dogs underdeveloped. But that’s because the film’s not-quite-90-minute running time doesn’t leave a lot of room to explore certain questions. What, for example, is the point of the dog with the boat? Presumably regular viewers of the show already know the characters on a deeper level. On the other hand, Liberty is a great character — one who provides exposition and a point of entry to moviegoers who may not be familiar with the “Paw Patrol” universe, while also being really fun to watch.
Brunker knows how to play to the show’s base; the signature countdown sequence in which the pups launch into action happens at least three times, much to the joy of the young audience members at a recent press screening. While the movie takes most of its visual identity from the TV show, Brunker uses the move to Adventure City to bump things up a notch, creating a slick, neon world that has a touch of noir to it. While there are some relatively big-name celebrity voices (Jimmy Kimmel, Kim Kardashian), the bulk of the voice acting is done by actual voice actors — some reprising their roles from the TV show, some not — and is largely solid.
Of course “Paw Patrol” isn’t for everyone. But adult companions of the film’s constituency can rest assured that even they will get a few laughs, and never once wish for the sweet release of death. There are some scenes that show characters in peril, which may concern some very young viewers, but the intensity is typically age-appropriate. There’s no rude humor, no sarcasm, no sharp edges — just a warm cuddle of a movie that does exactly what it sets out to do.