We had barely crossed the threshold of my brother Dara’s house before my son tore upstairs shouting ‘paw pafrolller’. My son loves being in his cousins’ house. Mostly because Aoife and Cormac dote on him, but specifically because Donncha owns most of the Paw Patrol toys that currently exist and especially the Paw Patroller, the large catch-all vehicle that holds all the other, smaller vehicles used on the programme.
Compared to most of the world’s population, I feel as if we have a lot of Paw Patrol toys, all of which I hate, and most of which I know by the beep of their horns and the delightful yelp they produce from me when stepped on. To my son, however, we are drastically impoverished in this field. His obsession with Paw Patrol should be well established by now, so I will dispense with my usual hand-wringing about its inscrutable political compass, or asinine adventure plots. I won’t even mention that, despite having made an estimated $10bn for parent company Viacom, the show’s producers have only ever bought one royalty-free chicken noise and see fit to use it several times in every single episode for the mayor’s pet fowl, Chickaletta. No, I will restrain myself to merely commenting on the show’s evil genius for product placement, and what it has done to my son’s brain.
When I was a kid, spin-off toys often seemed like they had been made by someone who had never seen the show they were from. I had turtle dolls whose paint was so casually applied that using them for just five minutes resulted in the immersive treat of fully green hands. One year I got a Spider-Mobile, ostensibly a car that Spider-Man drove like a Batmobile, despite the fact Spider-Man’s usual mode of transport – swinging about Manhattan on gooey webs – generally precluded the necessity for him to drive around in a big car with his face on. Even Batman figures seemed to sport non-canonical outfits, culled from an alternate universe where Gotham’s Dark Knight was forever undertaking very important missions we somehow never get to see on the page or screen, requiring officially licensed suits with names like Batman: Arctic Adventure, Batman: Lava Mayhem, or Batman: Offshore Tax Accountant Extreme.
No, the genius of Paw Patrol is that they create toys that look exactly like the characters, vehicles and sets of the show, by making said objects all look like toys in the first place. And then they made one toy, one true holy toy, into which you can place most of those other toys and drive them around, in a manic whirlwind of grinding plastic and beeping tones.
I had barely started apologising for my son’s mercenary zeal before my sister-in-law Penny descended the stairs with said Patroller, and the entire lot of Paw Patrol paraphernalia, thrusting the box toward me with delight.
‘Are you sure we can have these?’ I asked, as if we’d been gifted both her kidneys.
‘Yes,’ she replied, with a stare that suggested the charm of 200 medium-sized plastic noise machines had rubbed off like so much green paint; that spoke of migraines, scratched feet and angry bedtime rows; of long, fraught meditations on the morality of privatised emergency vehicles and the fattened fist of capitalism itself.
‘They’re yours now,’ she said, smiling.