Making up Paw Patrol plots is not hard. Trust me, I know. Last year, my daughter got in the habit of asking me to create off-the-cuff Paw Patrol missions as occasional bedtime stories. And because the series is brimming with every narrative cliché ever created, this makes bespoke Paw Patrol stories pretty easy to manufacture from an exhausted parent brain, with no Chat GPT required. Mayor Humdinger loses his mustache. Marshall becomes an arsonist. Chase is revealed to be a secret twin. You get it. If you’ve seen one Paw Patrol, you’ve seen them all, even ones nobody has seen because I made them up. These types of stories are like the factory settings of all kids’ media which, results in a cloying genericness, that has led to a knee-jerk, and nearly universal, parental hatred of Paw Patrol. Even when people like Kristen Bell and Dax Shepard are paid to promote Paw Patrol, they end up making fun of it.
But here’s the thing. In a world in which some kids’ feature films are very stressful, or, perhaps overly violent (like the excellent recent Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles reboot), it is useful to have a movie in the theater that you can see with a Kindergartner and not worry. Yes, the lazy writing of Paw Patrol in general will set most parents’ teeth on edge, but what’s fascinating about the latest theatrical release — Paw Patrol: The Mighty Movie — is that it’s essentially their version of Avengers: Endgame, though, it is much more comprehensible than the last several Marvel products.
If you’re somehow unaware of the internal canon of Paw Patrol, don’t bother trying to figure it out now. In some ways, The Mighty Movie is a quasi-reboot. Skye (the pup who likes flying) gets a new origin story, while all the other members of the Paw Patrol encounter some crystals from space that transform them into “the Mighty Pups.” If the basic set-up of Paw Patrol before now was a much less cool version of Voltron, in which none of these cartoon dogs had superpowers, and their vehicles never merged — then The Mighty Movie turns them into the X-Men.
Nobody uses the word “mutate” to describe what happens to the pups when they interact with the crystals, but that’s essentially what happens. These dogs — which could already talk and operate heavy machinery — are now imbued with more traditional superpowers like flight, strength, and magical manipulation of water. Within the Paw Patrol universe, superpowers actually feel more realistic than the general status quo; if David Cronenberg were directing a live-action version of the Paw Patrol, Chase’s ability to speak and operate drones that spy on people would be chilling. But, once they’re dashing around like the Avengers, it’s almost like Paw Patrol loses whatever previously weird edge it once possessed.
In other words, if you thought the Paw Patrol was tragically uncool before, transforming the pups into superheroes only makes them dopier. And yet, in the broad strokes, for countless preschoolers, Kindergartners, and some 1st graders, this movie is awesome. And again, from the point of view of many parents, it’s also a safe kids’ movie in which you’re not worrying about answering any complicated questions. There are no fatalities in The Mighty Movie, and the messaging is all positive. Yes, one of the pups goes rogue in this movie, but the moral center of Paw Patrol — at least within its own universe — isn’t confusing. (The merchandising in our universe is another story.)
Finally, with regard to one of the newer villains, The Mighty Movie could scan as a cautionary tale about not living your life for the clicks and the likes. Believing in yourself is all well and good, but just like the classic moment in Superman II when Clark gives up his powers, the events of Paw Patrol: The Mighty Movie throws some shade at the existence of superpowers in the first place. Doesn’t all this unnatural power cause more problems than it solves? At one point, a beloved member of the Paw Patrol essentially miscalculates and allows Mayor Humdinger to become the Thanos of the Paw franchise.
Make no mistake, Paw Patrol is trying to create a Marvel-style movie for very small moviegoers. And the thing is, unlike the last Ant-Man or the vast majority of Secret Invasion, the superheroic world-building of Paw Patrol: The Might Movie is totally comprehensible. And that’s because — and it pains me to say this — Paw Patrol remembered the one thing so many superhero movies forget. We have to care about the characters first. And guess what? A lot of kids care about what happens to Skye.