This March 27, 2019 photo shows actress Marsai Martin posing in her office, Genius Productions, in Los Angeles. (Photo by Rebecca Cabage/Invision/AP)

In 2013, the world was introduced to the heroic puppies and their fearless leader via “PAW Patrol.” Afraid of absolutely nothing, we’ve followed them as they rescued dinosaurs and went on adventures, after adventures, outdoing their enemies and leaving their paw print (pun intended) on the pop-culture zeitgeist which includes a slew of merchandising deals.

Fast-forward to 2021 and we have the imaginatively named film “PAW Patrol: The Movie,” and will debut in theaters (family fun) and on Paramount Plus on the same day.

From writer-director Cal Brunker, and co-writers Billy Frolick and Bob Barlen, this team has delivered another layer to the plucky puppy rescuers.

Our team lives in a picturesque town where the leader Ryder (voiced by Will Brisbin) and his qualified crew of perky pups are in charge of the town’s rescue operations. They have a motto: “No job is too big; no pup is too small.”

Their day perks up with suddenly they field an emergency call from a fearless dachshund Liberty (Marsai Martin) in neighboring Adventure City. Meanie Mayor Humdinger (Ron Pardo) — the PAW Patrol’s biggest adversary — has just won the city’s election and is shaping new policies that hurt dogs and humans too. There are tinges of the old Donald Trump in this narcissistic, arrogant, idiot who’s in love with his crazy campaign promises which include major infrastructure “reforms.”

For example, he wants to build a loop-de-loop for the subway system and he’s taken over a weather-controlling science experiment that, when overtaxed, will threaten everyone’s safety. In short, he’s crazy.

Liberty (voiced by Marsai Martin) in PAW PATROL: THE MOVIE from Paramount Pictures. Photo Credit: Courtesy of Spin Master.

But the pups have their support and that includes pilot Skye (Lilly Bartlam), Marshall (Kingsley Marshall), bulldozing bulldog Rubble (Keegan Hedley), recycling handypup Rocky (Callum Shoniker), and aquatic rescuer Zuma (Shayle Simons) all of whom are jazzed to assist police dog Chase (Iain Armitage) who isn’t as excited. Why? He experienced trauma from his early years as a terrified stray in Adventure City and is skittish to share with them all that he’s become.

He tries to calm his nerves by outfitting himself with new gears and gadgets and taking Ryder’s pep talks to heart.

But that’s the thing about not dealing with early childhood trauma, because once there, his issues resurface, and bring up his crippling bouts of anxiety which naturally makes him doubt himself and worse, make stupid mistakes which lead him into (naturally) dangerous circumstances during rescue operations. The universe steps in and creates the “perfect storm” which forces the team to work
together in more creatives ways than ever before.

There is a lot of gentle and creative care in how the filmmakers build the universe — one in which dogs can speak to humans (I wish) and a 10-year-old has real responsibilities like driving an RV. This movie s packed with complexity, empathy and strong, and engaging characters that are easy for kids to understand as well as entertaining adults.

Now to the gang’s awesome adventures one of which includes rescuing both a truck driver dangling off a bridge and the scared sea turtle he dodged, all of them are wonderfully held together building a narrative that demonstrates large themes like courage, individual power, and the inspiration to change.

L-R: Zuma (voiced by Shayle Simons), Rocky (voiced by Callum Shoniker), Skye (voiced by Lilly Bartlam), Chase (voiced by Iain Armitage), Marshall (voiced by Kingsley Marshall), and Rubble (voiced by Keegan Hedley) in PAW PATROL: THE MOVIE from Paramount Pictures. Photo Credit: Courtesy of Spin Master.

What’s fun is that each of the Patrol gets their own moment to shine which speaks to the issues of equality within the very creative structure.

Chase’s fear is always approached compassionately and the creative team steps into sad notes with as much bravery as their assembled rescue team.

Liberty’s journey which is to become an official member of the team never comes off as desperate. She knows that she has a lot to offer the group and her ability to lean into teamwork is one of her greatest strengths.

I don’t want you to think that this is a boring, educational film because it’s not. It’s silly and goofy for sure with a lot of the supporting characters like a news reporter (Jimmy Kimmel) and a stuck-up poodle (Kim Kardashian West), and silly henchmen (Randall Park and Dax Shepard) doing the heavy “goofy” moments.

Another character that brings comedy to the movie is the scientist (voiced by Yara Shahidi) who has to dumb down her brilliant explanations.

“PAW Patrol” is an authentic comedy with an evergreen appeal that will make the kids and the parents equally happy. Four stars.

Production companies: Spin Master Entertainment, Nickelodeon Movies, Paramount Pictures, Paramount Animation
Starring Iain Armitage, Marsai Martin, Ron Pardo, Yara Shahidi, Kim Kardashian West, Randall Park, Dax Shepard, Tyler Perry, Jimmy Kimmel, Will Brisbin
Director: Cal Brunker
Screenwriters: Billy Frolick, Cal Brunker, Bob Barlen
Rated G, 1 hour 25 minutes