The rise of authoritarian leaders worldwide over the last decade has become so great that now, even the world’s most popular preschool cartoon is commenting on it! On the surface, Paw Patrol: The Movie is simply a theatrical expansion of the characters and lore established in the hit TV show. Ryder and the pups relocate from the quaint Adventure Bay to the metropolitan Adventure City to protect the citizens from franchise evildoer Mayor Humdinger. The Big Apple kind of environment lends itself well for the Paw Patrol to receive vehicle and outfit upgrades that look great on the big screen, and in toy shelves.
Yet the subtext present in this kids movie is like a flashing neon sign for viewers that have any sort of basic knowledge about authoritarian governments. For those that may not have that background, some of the clearest signs of authoritarian leadership are:
- Give all decision making authority to themselves and does anything to stay in power.
- Want undying loyalty and will punish those who don’t give it.
- Defund departments made for the public good for their own vanity projects.
- Are incredibly vain.
The clearest sign of Paw Patrol: The Movie‘s political musings stem from the villain of Mayor Humdinger. Throughout the film’s 86 minute runtime, the Mayor hits every one of the bullets on the authoritarian checklist. Humdinger says early on in the film that he rigged the election so he could become Adventure City’s major. Once he is given a position of power, he begins to shift funds away from important resources like libraries, parks, and transit systems toward funding his grand mayoral events (all of which end in chaos). He routinely disregards the advice of scientists and experts when they say something he doesn’t want to hear. He is incredibly vain, worrying about his top hat and public image more than ensuring the local government is well run. Finally, his hatred for dogs, his mortal enemy, is so great that he converts a puppy training facility into his own canine concentration camp.
Unlike many films geared at young children, Paw Patrol: The Movie doesn’t shy away from actually showing Mayor Humdinger’s dastardy deeds. We see how Chase (Iain Armitage) struggles with trauma and loneliness from the painfully puppy memories of the big city. It’s only amplified when Humdinger’s guards capture him and force him to be a political prisoner. From 2 to 92, director Cal Brunker makes sure it’s clear that Humdinger is the villain of the piece.
The best part of the film though is seeing a leader like Humdinger actually be defeated by the things he hates the most. The Paw Patrol, from firefighter Marshall to policeman Chase, are a celebration of our society’s emergency services that never resort to violence to achieve their mission. With the amount of violence that is pervasive in our media today, it’s refreshing to see non-violence be utilized as an agent of change. While authoritarian leaders like India’s Narendra Modi and Saudi Arabia’s Mohammed bin Salman are unlikely to lose their positions of power anytime soon, one must hope that media like Paw Patrol can impact the next generation and usher in a new wave of democracy.
The Silver Lining
It was fantastic to see Paw Patrol: The Movie showcase its Canadian roots so prominently in its opening scene. The film begins with the pups rescuing Canuck sounding truck driver Gus (Tyler Perry) from his 18 wheeler from going over a massive bridge. When the rescue is complete, the truck that appeared to be carrying gasoline turns out to be full of 100% pure Canadian maple syrup. While the rest of Paw Patrol: The Movie leans more into a New York City atmosphere, the opening scene was a nice homage to the motherland that birthed the popular pups in the first place.
Paw Patrol: The Movie is now playing at a movie theater near you and on Paramount+.