We have 74 episodes of Paw Patrol on our planner; the children have viewed them countless times. “Would you like ‘Pups in a Fix’? ‘Pups save the Basketball Game’?” “Had that one. Had that one,” they say. Whenever I find an episode on Nick Jr that we haven’t seen before, I punch the air with excitement. ‘Pups save Friendship Day’ and it’s double-length too. What a bonus.
In quiet moments I find myself deliberating the ideology behind the cartoon. There’s a disappointing lack of back story. What’s going on with Ryder? With his high-pitched voice he is clearly pre-pubescent, so where are his parents? His friends? Does he not go to school? How is he so well-adjusted? And what about the Paw Patrol business – is it state-funded? Do Ryder and the pups get remunerated, or do they just get board and lodging? I unload the dishwasher in the morning and realise I’m humming the theme tune.
There is a kind of consistency with the format of cartoons which is strangely comforting. Ryder and his team in new episodes look exactly the same as in the previous ones. Ryder has no facial hair yet, no wobble in his voice; Rubble hasn’t developed arthritis in his hind paws; Marshall still shows little sign of brain damage from all his tumbles. The characters start afresh in every episode, just as every toddler starts the day anew having forgotten that his sister hit him over the head with a saucepan the day before. One day my children will tire of Paw Patrol, just as they tired of Peppa Pig, and move on to Spiderman or whatever the next stage is and the pups and the pigs will entertain future generations of pre-schoolers.
Young children of the 1980s watched Cities of Gold, Scooby Doo and Scrappy, Super Ted, Bananaman and Dungeons and Dragons. There would be one episode of a particular cartoon (depending on the day) and then we had to turn off before Grange Hill came on with its more ‘mature’ scenes. We weren’t able to watch all 36 episodes of Super Ted over lunchtime while our mothers were doing the 80s equivalent of admin on their iPads (i.e. peeling potatoes or washing nappies in the twin-tub).
I found an old episode of Dungeons and Dragons on Youtube and played it to my daughter to see if she would be interested. Have cartoons changed so much that my children would find them outdated? I was surprised: firstly at the fact that the ‘baddies,’ including a five-headed dragon, are quite scary – to a four year old. Secondly, that it was a US show. I remembered a lot about the cartoon, but hadn’t picked up on the American accents. Even the Canadian Paw Patrol has English-accented pups for its UK audience. Thirdly, at how familiar the characters still were: Sheila, the girl with red hair and the invisibility cloak who we all wanted to be, Uni the little unicorn, and Dungeon Master, who talked in riddles but who the children trusted.
And that it is the beauty of cartoons; the characters don’t age. Not only can they transport you back to the time when you sat on the orange-patterned rug by the fire and stared up at the square box with the fuzzy picture, but nothing pops up on your Facebook feed with the words “You won’t believe what Dungeon Master looks like NOW” before you have to click through 20 links to see a photo of him ten stone overweight and going to the shops in his dressing gown. They remain on screen as they did in our memories. As John Nash in A Beautiful Mind realises of the girl in his imagination: she does not age so she is not real.
My daughter sat and watched Dungeons and Dragons but didn’t ask to watch a second episode. Perhaps these old-fashioned cartoons should have a Beauty and the Beast-style makeover, complete with CGI and celebrity protagonists. Would that make them more appealing to the sophisticated cartoon-viewers of our children’s generation, or do I just want to relive my childhood?