Producers: Jennifer Dodge, Laura Clunie and Toni Stevens Director: Cal Brunker Screenplay: Cal Brunker and Bob Barlen Cast: Mckenna Grace, Marsai Martin, Finn Lee-Epp, Taraji P. Henson, Ron Pardo, Callum Shoniker, Nylan Parthipan, Christian Convery, Christian Corrao, Luxton Handspiker, Lil Rel Howery, North West, Alan Kim, Brice Gonzalez, Chris Rock, Serena Williams, Kim Roberts, James Marsden, Kristen Bell, Kim Kardashian West and Saint West Distributor: Paramount Pictures
Of all the misguided premises imaginable for a sequel to the first “PAW Patrol” movie, which was the 2021 big-screen debut of the Nickelodeon hit that has been a staple of the cable network since 2013, director Cal Brunker and his writing collaborator Bob Barlen have chosen what’s surely one of the worst: give the pups, the first-responding protectors of Adventure City, super-powers. The last thing the world needs is yet another super-hero movie, and certainly not one aimed at five-year olds. Yet now that the deed has been done, the super-powers will probably become a permanent feature of the continuing franchise. How dreary.
The source of the powers is a meteor drawn to earth by a new villain, mad scientist Victoria “Vee” Vance (voiced with frantic abandon by Taraji P. Henson), who attracts the extraterrestrial object with a huge electro-magnetic machine she steals from a scrap metal yard run by doofus owners Janet (Kristen Bell) and Hank (James Marsden) in the opening sequence. Her destruction of the place causes a fire that leads Ryder (Finn Lee-Epp), the solemn ten-year old commander of the pups, to assemble them to fight the blaze. They save the day, and later receive the various powers, which Vee had intended for herself, via crystals from the meteor that attach to their dog tags.
The first patrol member to get her power is Skye (Mckenna Grace), a Cockapoo depressed over her small stature and presumed insignificance in the group. And her powers are the best: super-strength and the ability to fly—which make her a natural leader. German Shepherd Chase (Christian Convery) gets super-speed, Bulldog Rubble (Luxton Handspiker) the ability to turn into a wrecking ball, Dalmatian Marshall (Christian Corrao) the power to control electricity, mixed-breed Rocky (Callum Shoniker) the power of magnetism, and Labrador Retriever Zuma (Nylan Parthipan) the ability to turn into water.
The only member of the crew not endowed with a super-power is disappointed Dachschund Liberty (Marsai Martin), whom Ryder assigns to stay behind and take care of Mini (North West), Nano (Alan Kim) and Tot (Brice Gonzalez), a trio of Pomeranian pups soon she decides to train as Junior Patrollers.
Meanwhile the jailed Vance joins forces with another prisoner, the pups’ old nemesis Mayor Humdinger of nearby Foggy Bottom (Ron Pardo), and together with the mayor’s band of nasty kitties they escape through a tunnel he’s been digging. The two baddies aim to steal the super-powers and supposedly share them, which leads to lots of kiddie-comic action as, among other things, Humdinger grows to gargantuan size and endangers the city like a Monopoly Man version of Godzilla. Reporting on it all is TV reporter Sam Stringer (Lil Rel Howery, who finds ample room for his characteristically hyped-up delivery in Stringer’s blurbs).
The movie tries to teach its target audience of kiddies some nice lessons about teamwork while assuring them, through the story of Skye, that even little runts can make a big difference (“No pup too small!” is the refrain). But though the members of the patrol are cute, and the Pomerarians absolutely adorable (one can sense a big seller in the toy aisle), the super-hero business gets tiresome, especially in the multiple crises of the last act. The humor is generally of a mild, innocuous sort (the potty stuff kept to a minimum); jokes aimed at adults are few and far between. The result is that anybody over the age of six or seven is probably going to be bored stiff.
Still, the younger set, especially those enthralled by the cable series, are likely to find the movie at least moderately enjoyable, if hardly a classic; the level of enthusiasm at the Saturday morning screening this reviewer attended, however, seemed pretty tepid. The voice work is generally fine—for those interested in such things, there’s a vocal cameo by Kim Kardashian as a self-absorbed poodle (two of her children are also in the cast)—and the creamy, pastel-colored computer animation is easy to take, though certainly not cutting-edge (the production design is by Peter Chan). As edited by Ed Fuller, things move along without too many slack spots, winding up at less than ninety minutes, and Pinar Toprak’s score adds further energy to the visuals.
So the Paw Patrol gives youngsters a super-hero movie much less mighty than the subtitle suggests. It’s more invigorating, though, than the short that precedes it—“Dora and the Fantastical Creatures,” a soporific reboot of the “Dora the Explorer” character who (you guessed it) is scheduled for a new series on Nickelodeon next year.