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. One of the most pointed scenes in the film features a fireworks display that sees all the rockets blast off simultaneously in a spectacle of noise and colours. The man in control 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 is a film that seems to be in tune with modern culture, where children are clearly overly stimulated.
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 because it aligns well with a culture in which youth can save the day, regardless of ambition or other adult considerations. This may be pleasing to or recognisable for children raised by late millennials, who are now adults in a world that is changing traditional markers of ageing, such as house ownership. Also, children born after Philippa Perry are more likely to be considered equal to grownups that previous generations.
PAW Patrol: The Movie tries to repair some of its most obvious damages. In the movie, only one of the super-pups appears as 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 see if Liberty will be made a canon. Everest, a female puppy, is seen on the show a few times but is kept off the main screen. Although Liberty is a decent character, it is not clear why this streetwise ragamuffin would want to join these narcs. She ends up wearing an apricot-pink suit.
‘The film draws amusing parallels between the pups’ antagonist, Mayor Humdinger, and another blond North American megalomaniac’ … PAW Patrol: The Movie.Photograph: 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. Ayn Randian objectivism reigns in the film. It is most evident when Chase (the most police-like of the bunch) is told that his blue uniform and police vehicle were stolen. “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.