Directed By Cal Brunker
Starring – Lain Armitage, Will Brisbin, Ron Pardo
The Plot – When the PAW Patrol’s biggest rival, Mayor Humdinger (Pardo), becomes Mayor of nearby Adventure City and starts wreaking havoc, Ryder (Brisbin) and everyone’s favorite heroic pups kick into high gear to face the challenge head-on. While one of the pups must face his past in Adventure City, the team finds help from a new ally, the savvy dachshund Liberty. Together, armed with exciting new gadgets and gear, the PAW Patrol fights to save the citizens of Adventure City and stop Mayor Humdinger from destroying the bustling metropolis.
– Lush presentation. While nothing on the level of character detail of Pixar, or fantastical backdrops of Dreamworks, the work by Nickelodeon here is an ambitious step forward, and one that translates to the big screen wonderfully from its television beginnings. “Paw Patrol” supplants a warmth of free-flowing color and bulbous landscape designs to give a three-dimensional immersiveness that vibrantly pops in the face of its audience, giving way to some solid computer-generation that at the very least affords us no shortage of artistic flare to keep our eyes transfixed to the screen at all times. On top of it all, the direction from Brunker, the same man whose rambunctiousness over-exuded on “The Nut Job” and “Arctic Dogs”, is elevated tremendously, showing the kind of restrain in visual urgency that grips audiences accordingly, all the while never overdoing it to the point that its enthusiastic style takes away from the pivotal lessons and story beats of the ensuing narrative.
– Thrilling action. Most surprising to my interpretation was the abundance of various set pieces and underlining vulnerability that lacked no shortage of creativity or diversity in the boundaries of their designs. From a riveting semi-truck plunge off of a city bridge, to a building scaling climax in the face of a natural disaster, this film’s strong-suit is easily in the enveloping conflict that it unleashes on its audience, giving us very little time of relief in between to catch our breath before the next physical adversity tests our team of pups to no physical or psychological limit. For a G-rated film, this is especially a remarkable feat of its own, because the ideals of peril on its own are usually enough to afford most kids movies a typical PG rated grading, but Brunker’s control over our captivity knows just how far to push the boundaries without over-stepping, giving us a trio of exhilarating plunges that test and enhance the movement of the lens in way that feeds into the risk of the job for these colorful characters.
– Accessibility. Considering I am someone who has never watched a single episode of “Paw Patrol”, I am pleased that the lack of experience didn’t whither away my investment to the development of the characters and ensuing setting. Instead, this feature length film establishes a grounded-but-aspiring plot that is simultaneously an inviting first step for anyone like me, and a satisfying continuation for faithful fans who have grown up with this franchise. The exposition itself is naturalistic enough in its unloading to fill in the gaps without it feeling too heavy-handed or spoon-fed in its intentions, and the concept itself couldn’t be easier in attaining the personalities and backstories of the characters, that is easy to piece together seamlessly. It makes for one of the more accessibly welcoming TV adaptations that I have seen in quite sometime, and toes a thin line of expectation for both sides of the audience that it could’ve easily fallen one way or the other towards, but didn’t.
– Youthful ensemble. There is probably nobody harder on child actors than yours truly, but I’m pleased to say that the work of Armitage, Brisbin, and the patrol debuting Marsai Martin are more than up for the task at hand, and bottle as much innocence and bravery to their respective characters that really brings to life much that is endearing about their personalities. Brisbin is probably my personal favorite as Ryder, emulating the same kind of authenticity on-screen as a precocious child as that of the 15-year-old actor in real life who already has seven acting credits to his name. For Armitage, I enjoyed the heart and longing for his various depositions as Chase, even if his own personal conflict in the character took away from most of the playful appeal that I hear repeatedly from fans of the show. As for new celebrity additions besides Martin, there’s audibly transforming turns from Jimmy Kimmel, Dax Shepard, Randall Park, and even Kim Kardashian of all people, as a sassy poodle with upper class tastes and snappy retorts. O.K, they can’t all be transformative.
– Cultural ties. With much of its 20 million dollar budget reaching for an expansive canvas and mainstream appeal, the production has plenty to spend on a pop-heavy soundtrack with no shortage of assorted familiar artists at its disposal. Everyone from Adam Levine, to Alessia Cara, to Fifth Harmony supplant one of the more big name collections to contemporary music this year, creating a series of tracks that not only work terrifically with their use in the heat of the sequence, but also with musical performances that bottle enough energy to unload to the integrity of the experience. It helps enough that this creative decision doesn’t feel as desperate or obvious as other movies whose soul intention is to sell records (I’m talking to you “Sing”), but the tracks themselves are actually rhythmically balanced toe-tappers that are easily distinguishable in the way they materialize, sifting through audible proof of what I’ve always known; that Levine is in fact part-poodle in his howling registry.
– Quality time. Clocking in at a brief-but-pleasant 80 minutes of screen time, “Paw Patrol” very much knows what it has to offer, and wastes very little time in between in getting us there. Because of such, I can say that there was never a time where I was bored or losing interest in the narrative, despite my initial delve into the world being one of great skepticism for a trailer that definitely didn’t win me over. This one wastes no time getting matters established with a high stakes set piece that perfectly captures the resiliency of the pups while flying through the urgency of the environment rampantly. From there, we are thrust into the development of the narrative, which brings with it many character dynamics and no shortage of action, which I previously mentioned. Before wrapping matters up with a resolution that I honestly felt the movie still had a half hour to go, but was more than accepting of its trimming of the fluff, especially considering this movie is exceptionally edited on its own merits.
– Underwhelming antagonist. Although I’m told he’s a pivotal character on the TV show, the general outline for Mayor Humdinger left plenty more to be desired, as far as motivations go. Aside from him being every bit of the cliche antagonist for kids movies whose only desire is the benefits of power, it’s his use in the film that is most halting to the momentum that the film frequently gains whenever he’s off-screen, pointing to a lack of effectiveness or influence to the ensuing narrative that proves this film could’ve been done with his character sitting on the sidelines. For my money, the internal struggle taking place in Chase’s memories of a depressing past more than illustrate a compelling arc taking shape from within, and one that doesn’t require the obviousness of Humdinger making his weekly appearance in the franchise by attempting another predictably obvious get powerful quick scheme that the patrol have no problem decoding. It could’ve created more doubt within the dynamic of the group, but beyond that could’ve allowed Chase to take control in a movie that otherwise spells him out as a leader, but shows very little proof of it along the way.
– Humorously flat. Comedy is subjective, we all know that. So with great sadness, it pains me to say that the material in “Paw Patrol” definitely caters to a particular audience, and not exactly one that offers something equally enticing to the older demographic forced to endure a barrage of quirky rhymes and low-hanging puns that are a frequent. To be fair, I did laugh a couple of times throughout the movie, mostly during observational humor and sight gags that I feel the film tragically didn’t use enough despite their effectiveness, but I sat annoyed in my chair that child audiences were getting something from it that I wasn’t, especially knowing the barrage of kids movies these days that offer a satisfying balance and awareness to many demographics present beyond the screen. At the very least, it only points to one joke of toilet humor, but at its most, it’s a mostly unfunny distraction that bombs more times than not, and points to the biggest problem of disconnection with kids movies that still resonates in 2021.
– Problematic instances. A couple of matters caught my attention during some less than stellar instances of production in between. The first pertains to the mediocre sound designs in the film that don’t always line up seamlessly to the perception of the placed lens or camera. For instance, if a car comes zooming by our angle of perception on the ground of where we the audience are placed, then theoretically it should enhance the volume of the revving engine whisking by us in that instance. There’s also some mic or recording problems with one particular canine, who sounds ten feet back from her fellow pups, despite the fact that in frame they are all standing as equally close to our distance. On a visual spectrum, there was one scene where Ryder attains knowledge from a corresponding hologram, but the problem is he comes to the realization long before the hologram itself even pops up. It’s the occasional sloppiness that keeps this decent film from being a great one, and points to the inconsistencies of its production that honestly could’ve done better.
My Grade: 6/10 or C+