How do you turn a beloved Canadian preschool animated TV series into a big screen outing for all to enjoy this summer? Add a touch of Gotham spirit, a colourful joker and an orphan backstory (or two) into the mix with Paw Patrol.
Bigfoot Family’s Cal Brunker and Bob Barlen have joined writing forces with Madagascar’s Billy Frolick and come up with a credible tale of the infamous, resourceful puppies saving the day for all, complete with an environmental message looming like a storm cloud above. It sounds like a lot on a ‘U’-slated film’s plate, but the filmmakers have merely supersized the paw power and turned the lovable pups into big-city superheroes, after taking them out of their normal stomping ground of Adventure Bay.
Boy leader Ryder (voiced by Will Brisbin) and his team of six brave pups called Chase (Iain Armitage), Marshall (Kingsley Marshall), Rubble (Keegan Hedley), Rocky (Callum Shoniker), Skye (Lilly Bartlam) and Zuma (Shayle Simons) are kicking around the Bay when they get an S.O.S. at their HQ from street-smart stray dachshund Liberty (voiced by a brilliant Marsai Martin). It appears the newly-elected, openly corrupt and totally narcissistic Mayor Humdinger of Adventure City (voiced by Ron Pardo) who is a cat lover is not only laying down the law against dogs, but also trying to play God with the weather and causing a big welcome parade for himself to go up with a bang.
Naturally, the fearless pup team, complete with catchy catchphrases, springs into action. Only Chase is reluctant to venture back into the city after being abandoned there years earlier and still very much haunted by it. Can the pups secure the safety of the citizens – animals and humans – in time, while putting joker Humdinger out of action? More importantly, can Chase overcome his own demons?
Let’s face it: It did not take that much to up the pups’ game when you have notorious canine characters with distinctive personalities already known to the film’s target audience. So the makers can get straight into the action. The plot of a city under siege and the underdog (pardon the pun) becoming the unlikely hero is nothing new. Therefore, the writers are not trying to reinvent the wheel but just placing the lovable dogs into a different environment to see how they fare. What also works in the film’s favour is a play on the age-old ‘cat lover verses dog lover’ trigger that has provided ample thrills for family audiences for years.
Another successful aspect of both the TV series and this film that feeds little imaginations is the gadgets that the pups use. And fans will not be disappointed here. The heroes have new, higher-tech ‘toys’ that will still feel familiar and enhance the pups’ individual strengths. They also have a brand new HQ in the city centre. The irony of the merchandise potential here post-screening is not lost either, with fun nods to it within the film itself.
The big-screen adventure effortlessly narrows down focus on the effects of abandonment and overcoming adversity, with pup leader Chase being key in these moments and aided by an ever disarming and thoughtful Ryder. In fact, there might be a whole new backstory ready to be tapped into for this key human character that could spawn more spin-offs – much like a ‘Paw Patrol Avengers’ series, with offshoots focusing on how all the pups came to be. You heard it right here.
In fact, the show stealer is new character Liberty who is the Paw Patrol’s personal city guide, guardian and biggest ally. Black-ish star Martin is like a seasoned voice-over pro like Regina King or Cree Summer, not only having too much fun voicing Liberty, but also fully fleshing out her confident style. The dachshund does not pale into insignificance beside her famous canine co-stars, but actually stands out alone in this. The end result provides a thrilling new high for all viewers who can go home singing the theme tune even happier and louder than before.
The only downside is the patrol’s resident female hound Skye does not get as much attention in the story, even though she saves the city in her own resolute way. We are still none the wiser about what makes the plucky pro pilot tick as a character.
That said Paw Patrol: The Movie manages entertain the whole family, with its spirit of adventure, team focus, cool gadgets, slapstick gags, a Chickaletta appearance, as well as unapologetic nods to Batman for older viewers. This could be that one film resourcefully targeting all the family at the box office this summer break.