Review: ‘PAW Patrol: The Movie,’ starring the voices of Will Brisbin, Iain Armitage, Lilly Bartlam, Marsai Martin, Ron Pardo, Yara Shahidi and Jimmy Kimmel

August 20, 2021

by Carla Hay

Zuma (voiced by Shayle Simons), Rocky (voiced by Callum Shoniker), Skye (voiced by Lilly Bartlam), Chase (voiced by Iain Armitage), Marshall (voiced by Kingsley Marshall) and Rubble (voiced by Keegan Hedley) in “PAW Patrol: The Movie” (Image courtesy of Spin Master/Paramount Pictures)

“PAW Patrol: The Movie”

Directed by Cal Brunker 

Culture Representation: Taking place in the fictional Adventure City in North America, the animated film “PAW Patrol: The Movie” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few African Americans, Latinos and Asians) representing the middle-class and working-class.

Culture Clash: A boy and his team of rescue dogs must stop a villainous mayor, whose demented plans to control everything end up causing dangerous hazards to people in the city.

Culture Audience: “PAW Patrol: The Movie” will appeal primarily to fans of the “Paw Patrol” TV series and people who want escapist entertainment that can be enjoyed by viewers of of wide age ranges.

Mayor Humdinger (voiced by Ron Pardo) in “PAW Patrol: The Movie” (Image courtesy of Spin Master/Paramount Pictures)

“PAW Patrol: The Movie” is a lightweight, family-friendly animated film with multi-generational appeal. It’s not going to win any major awards, but the movie has positive messages about teamwork, self-acceptance and caring for mental health issues. It also doesn’t fall into a common trap that tends to plague animated films from major studios: trying to cram in as many storylines as possible, and thereby making the film too cluttered.

The simple plot of “PAW Patrol: The Movie” works well because it’s easy for very young kids to follow, and the pacing is just right for this story. A lot of family-oriented animated films seem to forget that many children in the movie’s target audience are too young to understand movies that pile on complicated subplots. And some animated movies get so enamored with world building, it results in too many characters being introduced. Sometimes people just want to see an uncomplicated “good versus evil” story.

Directed by Cal Brunker (who co-wrote the screenplay with Billy Frolick and Bob Barlen), “Paw Patrol: The Movie” thankfully does not assume that everyone watching this movie has seen the “Paw Patrol” TV series, a show that originated in Canada in 2013. The series is televised in Canada on TVOKids and in the U.S. on Nickelodeon You don’t need to see the “PAW Patrol” TV series to enjoy or understand the movie.

What might disappoint fans of the “PAW Patrol” series is that certain dog characters in the movie don’t get the spotlight as they would in the TV series. Newcomers to the “PAW Patrol” franchise who see this movie and don’t know anything about the TV series will come away only remembering the personalities of only three or four (or about half) of the dogs in the movie.

But the filmmakers seem to know this movie’s target audience, because there’s only so much you can put in an 88-minute movie like this one that a TV series would be allowed more time to have. For example, in the TV series, there are 12 dogs and one cat that are part of the PAW Patrol. In this movie, there are six dogs that are part of the PAW Patrol and one dog that’s an aspiring PAW Patrol member.

In “PAW Patrol: The Movie,” Ryder (voiced by Will Brisbin) is a 10-year-old boy who’s in charge of a team of rescue dogs that have the voices of human kids who are around the same age and can do many things thagt humans can do, such as drive vehicles. Ryder and the dogs all live in Adventure City, which is somewhere in North America. Members of the PAW Patrol help the community in various ways, by acting as unofficial police officers and firefighters.

The dog who’s closest to Ryder is a male German Shepherd named Chase (voiced by Iain Armitage), who has a reputation for being the bravest dog in the pack, with a keen sense of sight and smell. Chase is allergic to cats though, which is a hindrance since this movie’s villain has several cats. All of the other PAW Patrol dogs look up to Chase in some way as their “alpha dog.”

In addition to Chase, there’s Skye (voiced by Lilly Bartlam), a bold 7-year-old female tan cockapoo, who has aircraft skills and a custom-made pink-and-grey helicopter. Marshall (voiced by Kinsgley Marshall) is a goofy 6-year-old male Dalmatian with firefighter and paramedic skills and a custom fire engine truck. Rocky (voiced by Callum Shoniker) is a 6-year-old grey-and-white male Schnauzer/Scottish Terrier mixed-breed dog, who is skilled at recycling and handyman duties, and he has a green recycling truck.

Zuma (voiced by Shayle Simons) is a 5-year-old male brown Labrador Retriever whose specialty is water rescues. He has an orange hovercraft that can be used on water or on land. Rubble (voiced by Keegan Hedley) is a 5-year-old male white-and-brown bulldog who is the team’s construction expert, and his custom vehicle is a yellow bulldozer.

In “PAW Patrol: The Movie,” the team is moving to new headquarters that Ryder has chosen for them. Going along for the ride is another dog who eagerly wants to become a member of the PAW Patrol. She’s smart and sassy Liberty (voiced by Marsai Martin), a brown dachshund, who only has a beat-up play wagon as her vehicle. Liberty, who is a new “PAW Patrol” character introduced in this movie, feels like she has to prove herself to be a worthy member of the PAW Patrol. Liberty meets Ryder and the team when she helps navigate them out of a traffic jam—an indication that she has an excellent sense of direction.

Around the same time, Adventure City is about to experience new leadership with the newly elected Mayor Humdinger (voiced by Ron Pardo), an egotistical and cruel blowhard who will stop at nothing to get what he wants. (Pardo also voices the character of marine biologist Cap’n Turbot, a TV series regular who makes a brief appearance in this movie.) Mayor Humdinger likes to wear top hats and loves to get attention for himself.

The mayor also owns several cats, which are the only living beings that he doesn’t mistreat. The movie doesn’t portray cats in a positive way—the PAW Patrol dogs dislike cats and make sour faces when cats are mentioned—but viewers who love cats shouldn’t be too offended, since the cats don’t really do anything wrong in the story. In addition to having cats as his companions, Mayor Humdinger has two boneheaded and bulky henchmen who are at his beck and call: dark-haired Butch (voiced by Randall Park) and blonde Ruben (voiced by Dax Shepard), who frequently argue about which of them is smarter or more well-liked by their boss.

In Adventure City, a brilliant scientist named Kendra Wilson (voiced by Yara Shahidi) has been leading a team to build an invention called the Cloud Catcher, which sucks clouds out of the air. She tells Mayor Humdinger that the purpose of the Cloud Catcher is so that clouds can be studied and examined. However, once Mayor Humdinger finds out about the Cloud Catcher, he orders Kendra and her team to use it so that every day in Adventure City can be sunny.

Mayor Humdinger makes some more awful decisions, such as building an outdoor subway track that looks more like a circular amusement park ride. Not surprisingly, things go very wrong, and a subway train gets stuck hanging upside-down from the track. Its one of several hazardous events that need the PAW Patrol’s help. There’s an environmental disaster that also occurs due to the Mayor Humdinger’s misuse of the Cloud Catcher.

Early on in the movie, during a rescue of people from a burning building, Chase gets stuck on his parachute rope because he didn’t activate the parachute correctly. He’s very hard on himself because of this mistake. And as a result, he loses a lot of self-confidence and starts to have anxiety attacks in stressful situations. It’s a mental health issue that’s handled with grace and sensitivity in this movie, which also hints that Chase has become a workaholic who’s in need of taking a break for self-care.

The movie isn’t all gloom and doom. There are several moments of comedic levity, many of which come from an overly ambitious TV journalist called Marty Muckraker (voiced by Jimmy Kimmel), who wants to get news scoops and uncover scandals at any cost. Mayor Humdinger and Marty both have huge egos. It’s inevitable that both of them will have personality clashes with each other.

If you’ve ever had real-life experiences with a narcissistic, incompetent tyrant who’s been given too much authority and is on a power trip, then you’ll get some laughs out of watching what happens to Mayor Humdinger in this movie. Adults who watch this movie with any underage kids should tell those kids that even though Mayor Humdinger is a fictional character, there are plenty of toxic bullies like him in the real world. A cartoon villain like Mayor Humdinger isn’t too far off from how power-hungry and vain oppressors act like in real life.

All of the voice actors get the job done in a highly satisfactory way, but not in a particularly outstanding manner. What stands out in “PAW Patrol: The Movie” is how well the story makes use of a uncluttered plot, in addition to the real-life lessons that the movie tries to teach, without being preachy. “PAW Patrol: The Movie” also has a very good gender balance in who gets to do the heroic actions. There are certainly more intricately made, higher-budgeted and more dazzling animated films than “PAW Patrol: The Movie.” But for people who are looking for some good, clean fun in an animated movie that doesn’t get dull or overly complicated, then “PAW Patrol: The Movie” is a solid choice.

Paramount Pictures released “Paw Patrol: The Movie” in U.S. cinemas and on Paramount+ on August 20, 2021.