This piece was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labor of the writers and actors currently on strike, the movie being covered here wouldn’t exist.
There likely isn't a parent in the English-speaking world who doesn't know about PAW Patrol, the mega-popular Canadian television show that's wormed its way into the addled attention spans of tots worldwide. It has a deceptively simple premise and has become a merchandising cash cow: Take a pack of adorable puppies, give them rhyming catchphrases, plastic outfits, and toyetic vehicles, and slap them on every conceivable surface a parent can buy for their child.
To its credit, PAW Patrol: The Movie, the franchise's first go at the big screen, was sprightlier than expected — it was bright, colorful, and wove in a heartwarming subplot for fan-favorite Chase (Iain Armitage, replaced in the sequel by Christian Convery) teaching kids the importance of facing their fears. PAW Patrol: The Mighty Movie largely feels like a repeat of the first, with a superpowered coat of paint over it.
No Pup Too Small
Essentially readapting the special episode “Mighty Pups” from earlier this year, The Mighty Movie sees the PAW Patrol still doing their thing in Adventure City, under the leadership of their favorite human Ryder (Finn Lee-Epp). But when a “mad” scientist named Vee (Taraji P. Henson) brings a meteor down on the city, it cracks open, revealing crystals that give the Patrol new powers. Chase has super speed, Skye (Mckenna Grace) can fly, Rubble (Luxton Handspiker) becomes a living wrecking ball, and so on.
Rebranding themselves the “Mighty Pups,” they're pretty much the same as the old PAW Patrol, but now, thanks to their glowing paws, they can tout their signature skills outside their vehicles. Oh, and their outfits and vehicles (collect them all!) get glowy upgrades whose every curve director Cal Brunker lingers over.
Where Chase got the spotlight last time, Mighty Movie focuses on Skye, the smallest member of the team, and her insecurities about her size. These new powers give her a chance to feel capable in a way her size typically denies her, and the emotional push-and-pull that ensues when Vee hatches a scene to steal the crystals from her gives The Mighty Movie some much-needed heft among the gags and goofy faces. (Look out for a Toy Story 2-level flashback to her tragic puppyhood, one scientifically designed to elicit tears.)
Less effective is a nearly identical subplot involving Liberty (Marsai Martin), the PAW Patrol superfan who joined the team in the last film and struggles to find a place for herself. Ryder saddles her with the Junior Patrollers, a trio of Pomeranians (two of which feature the voices of Kim Kardashian's two kids, North and Saint West), and asks her to be “flexible.” Three guesses as to what her superpower turns out to be.
Mighty Fine…. And That's All
The rest is the usual by-the-motions pops of color, cute jokes, and roly-poly puppies, occasionally interrupted by the serviceable action sequence. Mayor Humdinger (Ron Pardo), the Trumpian big bad of the series, returns for a few good gags (“This is why I hate free and fair elections!”), but Mighty Movie underuses him compared to Vee's one-note cackling. It's all perfectly passable, albeit scientifically designed to do little more than keep kids glued to the screen while their parents dutifully check their phones for a few minutes of peace.
The fundamental problem is that the superhero schtick feels artificially grafted on — none of the superpowers are particularly novel, and the action sequences skew towards the frustratingly familiar. (The climax involves a shootout between Skye and some meteors ripped right out of Captain Marvel; that film's composer, Pinar Toprak, provides the rum-te-tum superhero fanfare.) Teamwork and resourcefulness make the PAW Patrol special, which the powers make redundant; some gestures toward the Patrollers not needing their powers to do good aside, the film teases that this direction for the future of the Patrol. That's way less interesting than the Thunderbirds-meets-Avengers vibe they've got going on already.
PAW Patrol: The Mighty Movie is an innocuous enough experience, paying just enough attention to a few vital characters to make it feel less static than it might otherwise. But in chasing an already-dying trend, the PAW Patrol dilutes the charm the series had in the first place. Still, it's hard to judge films like this on these criteria. For most of its target audience, the big puppy-dog eyes and the bright colors will be more than enough.
RATING: 4/10 SPECS
PAW Patrol: The Mighty Movieflies into theaters on September 29th. We’ve got the latest on movies in theaters now.
Clint Worthington is a Chicago-based film/TV critic and podcaster. He is the founder and editor-in-chief of The Spool, as well as a Senior Staff Writer for Consequence. He is also a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and Critics Choice Association. His byline is also available at RogerEbert.com, Vulture, The Companion, FOX Digital, and elsewhere.