BThis week’s ad news is for parents of children younger than seven years old: PAW Patrol: The Movie has landed in the UK, and it’s a great way to feed a Covid-hardened generation. kidswith authoritarian, neoliberal propaganda under the guise a cheerful cartoon about puppies That’s right: the early years TV show that criminology professor Liam Kennedy suggests is complicit in “a global capitalist system that produces inequalities”It’s back!
PAW Patrol’s astonishing popularity has made it a fascinating case study for the tastes and cultural politics of a generation. The show’s move from small to silver screen has highlighted many of those peculiarities. The first thing to say – though it seems obvious – is that parents can’t simply leave their children in front of PAW Patrol: The Movie, as you might with a television show. The film’s makers may have reduced the often chaotic scenes because they know that adults will be watching. The film’s most striking scene features a fireworks display in which all the rockets are simultaneously launched in a spectacle full of colours and noise. The man in charge says: “Hey – I’m trying to build momentum here.”
Adults may be relieved with this odd bit of downtime, but in general the film maintains the programme’s deathless vibrancy, a world in which everybody is alert and ready at all times, and where dreaming and imagining are likely to get you run over by a screeching car. This film seems to be in tune today’s culture, where children are clearly overstimulated.
PAW Patrol’s chief singularity is the way young people are called upon to rectify the mistakes or crimes of adults. Ryder, Charlie to the pooches’ Angels, is a 10-year-old vigilante, and in the new film has become a magnate at the head of a lucrative empire. The animals themselves, the movie reminds us, are conspicuously not dogs but puppies – never ageing, like Bart Simpson or Just William. This is important as it aligns well to a culture that believes youth can save society, regardless of ambitions or other adult considerations. This may be a pleasing or recognisable trait for children who were raised by late millennials. They are now adults in a world changing traditional markers of aging, such as house ownership. Philippa Perry’s children are more likely to be regarded as equal to grownups than the previous generations.
PAW Patrol: The Movie seeks to repair some of its worst damages. Only one of the super-pups in the movie is a female. (Skye is depicted as so girly that not only is her uniform hot pink, but, freakishly, her eyes are too – the properties of biology clearly coming second to gender essentialism in the movie’s universe.) The film introduces a new female character, Liberty (finely voiced by Marsai Martin – the film’s best asset). It remains to be seen whether Liberty will be made a regular character. Everest, a puppy girl, is briefly seen on the show but is not featured on the main screen. While Liberty is a decent character it is unclear why this streetwise ragamuffin would want join these narcs. She ends up wearing an orange-pink suit.
‘The film draws amusing parallels between the pups’ antagonist, Mayor Humdinger, and another blond North American megalomaniac’ … PAW Patrol: The Movie.Photograph by Landmark Media/Alamy
The film’s dismaying gender politics are in tune with the franchise’s gross rightwingery, which sees these privatised dog-Avenger types endlessly called upon to undo the failings of various functionaries. The film is dominated by Ayn Randian objectivism. It is especially evident when Chase, the most police-like of all the group, is told that his blue uniform was stolen along with his police vehicle. “born to be a hero”. The film draws amusing parallels between the pups’ antagonist, Mayor Humdinger, and another blond North American megalomaniac, right down to the grotesque tower that Trump – I mean, Humdinger – erects in his own honour. But the film’s own sensibility is not vastly different to Trumpian individualism, disdain for the state, and capitalist materialism – indeed, in the film the dogs have a new tower of their own, subsidised by selling merch, and come with gleaming luxury gadgets that make Liberty, the poorer dog, swoon with envy.
How PAW Patrol will come to be viewed in years to come is an interesting question: it seems likely that a generation of children coming-of-age in a time of far greater gender fluidity than ever, will have little time for the show’s patriarchal gender performance. In other words, abandoning their children to this ceaselessly cheery neoliberal nightmare for 90 minutes shouldn’t worry parents too much.
PAW Patrol: The Movie opens at cinemas August 13.