There are moments in a film critic’s life when you feel blessed to read the words: “Screening not available.”
Last month, I received an e-mail from Canadian film distributor Elevation Pictures announcing that the company would be releasing Paw Patrol: Ready Race Rescue in select theatres across Canada on Aug. 2. The “PAW-some” 44-minute feature, featuring everyone’s favourite animated indentured servants and their forever-tweenage human master Ryder, was touted as the ideal film for “your little one’s first big-screen experience.”
While it’s a film critic’s solemn and sacred duty to watch as much as he or she is able, the mind can only take so much. And the mind of a film critic that also happens to belong to the parent of a five-year-old boy – a five-year-old boy who knows every tic and tactic of each of Paw Patrol’s six main pups – is already rotted to the core. Half out of obligation, half out of morbid curiosity, I asked Elevation if Ready Race Rescue would be available to screen for review purposes. Mercifully, it was not.
But then I wondered whether I could let such a momentous occasion pass by unmentioned. Ready Race Rescue isn’t Paw Patrol’s first big-screen outing – that honour belongs to 2018′s Paw Patrol: Mighty Pups – but it is the franchise’s splashiest play yet, brashly indicative of the brand’s confidence in having already conquered the world of children’s entertainment (to the tune of about US$1-billion a year, according to Bloomberg).
And it must be stopped. Or, that’s what I once thought.
Initially, when I saw that Ready Race Rescue was coming to theatres, I wanted to tear my remaining hair out and rage into the abyss, Howard Beale style. I wanted to say how Paw Patrol, which follows six talking puppies who take commands from a micromanaging little boy who lives in a bizarrely high-tech tower in a town that parental responsibility forgot, is the worst kind of children’s entertainment. I wanted to bellow all about how its messages, from its uniform depiction of adults as incompetent boobs to its archaic ideas about gender, are irresponsible. The entire production, I wanted to tell anyone who would listen, only exists to turn your child into a mindless consumer! Oh, and I wanted to add that its animation is as ugly as the rear end of any dog’s worst day.
But then I took a deep breath, gathered up my strength and sat my son down to inform him that there was a new Paw Patrol movie on the way. His eyes instantly lit up, he pumped his fists in the air with delight and he burst into uncontrolled fits of joyful laughter. This was what pure childhood mirth looked like. How could I mount a campaign against that?
Without having seen Ready Race Rescue – at least not yet; talk to me after this weekend – I can only assume that the production is more of the same from Paw Patrol factory floor: cheap, repetitive, hokey, annoying in tone and empty in substance. But if the film is anything like the series, it should also bring plentiful, easy smiles to every child who watches it, all while not indulging in crass violence or a general cheapening of emotional development. The central pups do good and honest work for their neighbours, display the hallmarks of genuine friendship and teamwork and occasionally throw a bone to progressive causes such as environmental protection.
This doesn’t excuse the franchise from its many regressive and puzzling elements – there’s only one main “girl” pup and everything she’s interested in is slathered in pink; there’s a queasy strain of unquestioned servitude in the way that the pups interact with Ryder; and this is not a show for cat-lovers – but the production is so easily, breezily and ultimately inconsequentially assembled that it’s like a momentary gust of wind in the cultural atmosphere. Annoying, but not nearly as harmful as it could be.
This may not sound like a ringing endorsement, but sometimes you just want, or need, to make your kid unreservedly happy for a few hours. Or 44 minutes. Paw Patrol, as the pups say over and over again, is on a roll. And I’ve learned to make peace with that fact.
Paw Patrol: Ready Race Rescue opens Aug. 2