The following contains a SPOILER for one unimportant, but potentially infuriating joke in Paw Patrol: The Mighty Movie.
Movies are designed to stir up emotions in us. From joy to sorrow and everything in between, when a movie causes you to have an emotional reaction of any kind, it has likely done its job. Frustration can even be a movie’s goal sometimes, as with plots with intentionally unresolved endings, but I’m pretty sure my own aimless anger was not the goal of two Paw Patrol movies. And yet, here we are.
Two years ago. I took my daughter to see The Paw Patrol Movie. It happened to be her first theatrical experience, and so, when I was invited to a recent preview screening of Paw Patrol: The Might Movie, releasing today, it made sense to bring her as my plus one. My kid enjoyed the movies, and for the most part, so did I. However, both movies have slightly varied versions of essentially the same joke, aimed squarely at the adults in the room, and I kind of hate it.
Surprise, The Paw Patrol Movies Exist To Sell Toys
I’m sure this isn’t a shock to anybody, but Paw Patrol, while it’s incredibly popular as a cartoon show, is, from a dollars and cents perspective, more of a merchandising juggernaut than it is a media franchise. This is nothing new. Walt Disney discovered almost 100 years ago that selling Mickey Mouse dolls was far more lucrative than making Mickey Mouse cartoons. The cartoons eventually became a vehicle for selling the merch.
But it’s one thing to know that your movie is essentially a commercial, and it’s another to admit this fact during your movie that is also a commercial. The Paw Patrol movie did this first with a joke two years ago that I think I was the only one in my theater (full of friends of my daughter, as a parent had rented the theater during the pandemic) who apparently thought was the funniest line in the movie. One of the dogs actually asks their human owner how he was able to afford their brand-new home base and vehicle line-up, and he responds by showing off the officially licensed merch he’s been selling on the side.
The sequel, Paw Patrol: The Mighty Movie, which is apparently a hit with dogs as much as kids, goes back to the well in a few ways. It includes a returning Kim Kardashian, who appeared in the first Paw Patrol movie cast, but it also includes a very similar merchandise joke of its own. After the pups have gained superpowers, which have required a new set of costumes, as well as new equally super-powered vehicles, a TV news reporter, voiced by Lil Rey Howery, discusses that the dogs now have all this new gear and new merch to go with it. He then follows up on that by saying “And so to the parents out there, we say… sorry.”
While I find these jokes funny on their own, they are exactly the sort of jokes that these movies insert so that the adults in the audience hopefully have fun just like the kids. I’m not sure I’m ultimately in favor of what these jokes are trying to do, because while Paw Patrol may be willing to admit what it’s doing here, it’s still doing it.
As far as cartoons that try to sell toys to kids, I can’t exactly complain too much about Paw Patrol. I grew up in the ‘80s, when Reagan-era deregulation relaxed the laws that prevented direct marketing to children like that. As such, our afternoon cartoons were thinly veiled commercials for everything from Transformers to He-Man to Thundercats, which somehow never got its movie.
But the biggest culprit of all was the awkwardly titled The Transformers: The Movie. It’s still considered by many to be the best Transformers movie, but it’s also fairly well known today that the movie had something of a singular purpose: to kill off most of the main characters who had existed in the Transformers cartoon in order to make way for new characters, and thus, new toys to be sold. The decision was largely rejected by fans, specifically as it regarded the killing off of fan-favorite character Optimus Prime.
In Paw Patrol: The Mighty Movie, a similar thing happens, as within the first 10 minutes, the Paw Patrol home base tower, which was introduced in the previous film, is destroyed by a falling meteor, and with it go all the new vehicles and everything else. This opens the door for all the new stuff to come in the new film. The parallel itself is almost hilarious.
The Paw Patrol Movies Are Commercials, But That’s Not All They Are
In the case of both The Transformers and Paw Patrol, we have an attempt to sell toys to kids and make their existing toys seem obsolete; to not just offer something new, but make them feel like they need it. The only difference is the approach.
I can appreciate, to some degree, the tongue-in-cheek method of Paw Patrol. We’re all a bit more savvy than we were in the 1980s, so perhaps the best way to handle this is with a wink and a nudge. Just admit what you’re doing, and at least if you do that, it won’t come across quite as insidious.
But is it actually more insidious? By making us laugh at the fact that our kids are going to be asking for a host of new toys at Christmas, and they really just trying to soften us up? I’m honestly not sure what the answer is here. That’s what has me so upset.
What’s worse is that I could just write off the whole thing if the Paw Patrol movies were terrible and were clearly only made to sell toys, and gave no thought to anything else, but they’re actually not bad movies. The stories and character arcs are incredibly simple, but that’s by design so that the youngest viewers can follow along. It’s honestly a great way to introduce concepts like character arcs and the three-act structure to kids. The fact that the Paw Patrol movies have coherent stories and character arcs at all is to be commended. The same can’t be said for the original Transformers animated movie.
Is it silly to get worked up over the Paw Patrol movies? Of course, it is, but sometimes that’s just what happens. These movies are either brilliant or devious, possibly both.