Recently, I took my son, aged 4, to Paw Patrol: The Movie.
He’s a big fan of the TV show, and as the youngest of my three kiddos, little Beck tends to get less of Dad’s time and attention than his older siblings. It was our first. “just-the-two-of-us”movie; so I grabbed a few blue Slushies, some mountain butter popcorn, and some popcorn to see this movie about Ryder. Ryder, a boy who leads an army of heroic heroes, was my first choice. “search and rescue”Adventure Bay, a paradise for dogs
I wasn’t exactly excited to see the movie, to be honest. To my surprise, however, Paw Patrol is a pretty good flick, and I couldn’t help but notice the story has a not inconspicuous message that tells an important and timeless economic lesson.
Mayor Humdinger: Recognizable Villain
People who’ve seen the Paw Patrol TV show likely know about Mayor Humdinger—a selfish, grasping politician always seeking to use his position as mayor of Foggy Bottom to his own advantage.
Humdinger is no different. As Mayor of Adventure City—a notable contrast to Adventure Bay—Humdinger quickly turns the metropolis into chaos by using his authority to fuel his own ego and nefarious plans. Adventure Bay is a small community that promotes cooperation and trade through voluntary action. Humdinger runs Adventure City.
Early in the film, we learn he’s capturing “stray”Sheltering dogs is a good idea. Humdinger is a cat person. Worse, Humdinger—tired of the rainy weather in Adventure City—decides to improve the city by getting rid of the pesky clouds that make things so dreary. (It just so happens, the clouds also threaten the fireworks celebration Humdinger is throwing to celebrate … himself.)
“I hear you have a weather machine that sucks up clouds. Is that true?”Humdinger questions the scientist at the university who is running the machine if he is a scientist.
“You’re looking at it!”She replies. “It’s a free-floating gyroscopically balanced remote controlled weather containment and analysis apparatus … We call it the cloud catcher.”
Humdinger clearly has no idea how the machine works, but he sees he can use it to solve his weather problem—despite the scientist’s warning that it’s a device for studying weather, not manipulating weather.
“I want all of those pesky clouds sucked up by the end of the day,” Humdinger blares.
The scientist reluctantly agrees to use the machine to collect rain clouds. “just for tonight” when Humdinger threatens to shut down the project if she doesn’t comply with his order. The machine isn’t turned off after it’s set in motion—another lesson—setting the stage for a cataclysmic weather event later in the movie.
Adventure City and Humdinger residents have the blessing of a private rescue team made up of puppies. The team is led by a small boy who’s able to help. With the assistance of a homeless puppy—named Liberty—the Paw Patrol is able to clean up Humdinger’s mess.
Are you too confused about Paw Patrol
This path is not without its twists and turns. Chase—a German Shepherd pup who serves as a police dog—loses confidence in himself and ends up in the pound after he’s nabbed by a couple of Humdinger’s goons. Chase and Ryder have a falling-out. To rescue Chase, the pups set out to put out some fires (literally and figuratively). Liberty, a new member of the pack, gets her own vehicle.
Still, I couldn’t shake the feeling that the overall plot seemed like a shining, Hayekian example of central planning gone wrong. In his hubris, Humdinger tries to do one thing—make the weather better—and ends up doing something very different: causing an environmental disaster.
Also, I noticed there’s a lesson in public choice theory. Even children will see that Humdinger isn’t acting out of some “common good”To improve Adventure City. He’s mostly interested in having nice weather so it doesn’t ruin his celebration. Is there a better example? “good weather”? “politics without romance,”To borrow a phrase of James Buchanan (the Nobel Prize-winning economist and pioneer of public choice theory),
Of course, I also couldn’t help but wonder: am I reading too much into this?
Paw Patrol is a children’s movie, after all. Are the show’s writers—intentionally or subconsciously—truly exploring these ideas in their film? Or am I imagining it? (I’m self aware enough to know I write for an economics organization, and humans have a knack of projecting their own insights and experiences onto art and human affairs, much like the subject staring at the inkblots of a Rorschach test.)
Naturally, I decided to test my theory and started Googling.
It didn’t take long to find that others have had the sneaking suspicion that Paw Patrol has (dangerous) pro-freedom messages woven into its stories. One Reddit post describes Paw Patrol as “a Libertarian conspiracy” (perhaps tongue in cheek, it’s hard to tell these days).
An article on Fatherly, meanwhile, blasts “the rotten political core of PAW Patrol”A disapproving smile that is both charmingly and bizarre.
“Who is Ryder? At first glance, he’s a child without a history, an inventor and engineering genius,” writes Patrick A. Coleman. “Ruled by logic and reason, deeply individualistic, and uninterested in the opinions of the townspeople that ‘Yelp for Help,’ Ryder controls his pack of working dogs and the town of Adventure Bay.”
Is that you, Ryder? Ryder is a suspicious character because he’s logical, deeply individualistic, and employs reason. But wait. It gets even better.
“[Ryder] is, in short, a 10-year-old libertarian autocrat — the sort of boy Ayn Rand would have tried to raise if she’d been interested in that sort of thing,” Coleman continues.
And then, the crescendo.
“On the surface, PAW Patrol is exactly as advertised, a lightly grating, exuberant half-hour of cute animals, meant to teach kidsHow to solve problems by working together. But look deeper and it’s a weird show about a weird, pastel town where Ryder is never questioned or pushed to account for himself. The fact that none of the residents ever talk about how he and his pack of pups rose to their prominent position in the town reeks of censorship or some deeply buried shame they’ve allowed themselves to be under a child’s thumb. Ryder and his pups seem to be performing an anarcho-capitalist show on a daily schedule to a catchy, ska-lite theme tune. …
He is impressive for his impeccable style and black gelled-up bouffant. He surpasses Rand’s [John]Gault, a 16-year-old who attended University and invented an unimaginable engine, was also a graduate of the University. Ryder’s command of technology and engineering prowess is undeniable. The proof is everywhere you might look. …
But a dark question looms over Adventure Bay. What would happen if Ryder suddenly tired of the town’s seemingly endless, petty chaos? … What would happen if Ryder shrugged? …
Maybe the ultimate danger of Ryder is that he’s duped the citizens of Adventure Bay into giving up their agency and America’s children into believing that exceptional people should be allowed exceptional power. And frankly, they shouldn’t.
After reading that description, I came home with an important lesson: don’t analyze cartoons too much. It can lead to dark places.
So is Paw Patrol the most libertarian movie since Disney rolled out Robin Hood, the 1973 classic that depicted the wonderfully evil Prince John (Peter Ustinov) punitively raising taxes to “squeeze every last drop out of those insolent musical peasants”Nottingham?
Maybe it is, maybe it’s not. My advice is to take the kids, get some popcorn, and don’t worry too much about it. Enjoy the movie.
This piece was originally published on FEE.org. The original can be found here.