Thursday, September 21, 2023

An Oral History of 'PAW Patrol'

As Spin Master’s juggernaut turns 10, the executives and creative talent behind this iconic preschool franchise share the story of how it took over the small screen, the big screen and toy aisles everywhere.

PAW Patrol

It was a giant leap for pupkind when PAW Patrol first launched in 2013. The Spin Master franchise turns 10 this year, and is marking the anniversary with its first spinoff, Rubble & Crew, which premiered in April, and the September release of its second feature film, PAW Patrol: The Mighty Movie.

Over the last decade, the IP has earned tail-wagging distinction as one of the most lucrative preschool brands of all time, with the series being broadcast into 350 million homes and the franchise generating more than US$14 billion in worldwide retail sales. Kidscreen hopped on a pupmobile to explore the origins of this canine success story with the execs and talent who helped create it.

A new leash on preschool

The now-iconic PAW crew sported a very different look in the initial artwork sketched by preschool TV veteran Keith Chapman.
The now-iconic PAW crew sported a very different look in the initial artwork sketched by preschool TV veteran Keith Chapman.

Jennifer Dodge (president of entertainment and executive producer of PAW Patrol, Spin Master): My first experience with PAW Patrol was taking the pitch from Keith Chapman. We had gone around the world talking to different creators and studios because we wanted to do an adventurous preschool series. And then Keith pitched us this concept called Robbie & the Rescue Dogs.

What stood out right from the beginning was the relatability of dogs with jobs. Children love dogs, but they also understand this concept because we see it all the time—the firehouse dog, the police dog—it exists in real life. We found that reality compelling, and it also had an aspirational quality.

It was the idea that the dogs’ houses transform into their vehicles, and they could be heroes in the community, doing jobs that were really relatable. I think that was the first thing that really excited me when I took the pitch.

Cat Demas (VP of design for toy entertainment, Spin Master): At the time, there were a lot of preschool properties in the space already, but I think the design language for PAW Patrol was unique. There was nothing really for a preschooler that felt heroic. We quickly made a conscious decision to amp up everything to give the pups and their vehicles really cool-looking tires and uniforms, while still keeping it all preschool-friendly.

Dodge: When the entertainment division launched in 2008, we had Bakugan on the air and we were working on other action properties. Right after, we decided that we wanted to make preschool a priority in our development slate.

Demas: The toy team, which I was part of, was very small. We literally had three people on our preschool team working hand in hand with Jen. But there is this really symbiotic relationship between the toy and entertainment groups, and how we tackle design problem-solving, that makes it feel like we’re functioning as one team. We’re trying to bake in innovation and make something that no one has seen before, because It wasn’t like we had this super-strong preschool line or franchise already in place.

Animated trans-fur-mation

The idea of dog kennels transforming into vehicles was one of the aspects that caught Jennifer Dodge’s interest when she took the pitch for the series in 2010.
The idea of dog kennels transforming into vehicles was one of the aspects that caught Jennifer Dodge’s interest when she took the pitch for the series in 2010.

Frank Falcone (president and executive creative director, Guru Studio): The team was a little apprehensive at first. Animators can be very selective; they like cool action heroes fighting evil villains. But a toy company with a commercial property about dogs with civic jobs? In all honesty, it wasn’t a big magnet for creative talent right away. But we carefully considered the material and focused on the key: creating authentic and entertaining pups.

Andrew Strimaitis (studio animation director, Guru Studio): The animation team at Guru was mostly established intermediates and senior-level talents, having just completed animating season two of Justin Time.

Dodge: It started with a one-pager of sketches, which is how we love to start so that we can bring our expertise—not just as producers, but also our understanding of how children play and engage. The first question we started with was, “What are the most popular breeds around the world?” Then we thought about which breed is qualified to do which job—for example, the German Shepherd as the police dog, and the Labrador as the water rescue dog.

Jamie Whitney (PAW Patrol‘s supervising director, Guru Studio): Some of the characters, like Rubble, evolved and changed, whereas others stayed close to the initial sketches. The first board was tough to crack because a lot of the staple moments you see in every episode had to be invented…it had to feel iconic. The team that worked on the development was initially around 10 people, which made the process intense, but very fun!

Matt Hoyte (animation lead for PAW Patrol, Guru Studio): The “Gear Up” sequence where they slide down the tower is where we really worked out the details of each character’s personality. Marshall is a bit out of control and clumsy, but Chase goes down the slide [and lands in] a heroic pose to showcase his leadership role.

Yurie Rocha (director, Guru Studio): All my worries vanished instantly when I witnessed the very first animation test of Chase delivering a heroic line. I knew that we had struck gold.

Building the doghouse for re-tail

The iconic Lookout Tower was one of the first products Spin Master designed for PAW Patrol’s toy line, and it continues to be reiterated every year.

Demas: Once the entertainment launched, there were so many Google searches for PAW Patrol toys. Plus, we had a pretty regular cadence with retailers coming in to see us and asking, “When are the PAW Patrol toys coming?”

If you went to Pinterest, you would see people making their own PAW Patrol birthday parties, [even though] there were no paper goods, there were no cake toppers, there was nothing. They would sculpt their own pups or paint PAW Patrol banners from scratch, which showed us that there was definitely demand for both toys and licensed products at the time.

There was a one-year delay between the entertainment and the toy launch. We had the core vehicles and we had a feature vehicle, but the very first product that we launched was the Lookout Tower. And the Tower was interesting because we knew we wanted sort of a center-piece and headquarters for the pups, but we didn’t know exactly what it would look like.

We actually worked with our Advanced Concepts Team in Toronto to help us brainstorm its design. They came up with this really unique idea of an indexing base, and each pup would have their own slot for their car. We had already figured out what the cars would do, and each of the pup’s jobs, but we didn’t have that headquarters locked in.

That initial range was really lean when you think about what the PAW Patrol toys are now, because while we had a great feeling about our line, you just never know if something is going to hit. But I love those items. I think the vehicles and the Tower are still the heart of the brand, and we continue to revisit them every year.

Chris Bobinski (studio asset director, Guru Studio): As someone who grew up in the ’80s, the symbiotic relationship between animation and toys has always held a special place in my heart. Our early discussions [prioritized] a balance between the requirements of toys and the demands of the cartoon, with the aim of captivating audiences in both worlds.

Pamela Kaufman (president and CEO of international markets, global consumer products and experiences, Paramount): PAW Patrol was a huge success right away—a bona fide ratings hit that took the preschool world by storm. And the early toy sales from Spin Master were incredibly promising. The demand was so great that consumers started making products on their own. We mobilized our organization quickly so we could hit shelves within a year of the show’s premiere, licensing across a wide variety of categories. That’s much faster than a typical licensing program works. One specific challenge we faced was breaking into new territories like Japan. We tailored our approach, examined different models, and formed a five-party consortium of strategic partners to best gain ground in that market. Now it’s one of the markets seeing the most growth and demand for PAW Patrol.

Big-screen paw-tential

Dodge: We realized that we’d been on TV for five years and we were still number one in the hearts of preschoolers, so we thought we could take this to the big screen. We had already done some fully formatted specials, so we knew that our audience had the attention span for deeper storytelling.

With a movie, we thought we could not only do bigger action, but we could also tell a story and learn more about one of our pups. So we chose Chase for the first movie. What is his backstory? What makes Chase tick?

Kaufman: The brand has evolved from a TV hit to a fully developed franchise with tons of touchpoints—consumer products, live events, resorts and digital extensions including games. Kids know they can find PAW Patrol, a brand and characters they love, almost anywhere. In general, the biggest challenge is the same with any huge brand—keeping it growing. And we’re doing that. PAW Patrol: The Movie is by far the most-rewatched film on Paramount+, streamed an average of six times per household.

Dodge: While we wrote and went into production before the pandemic, the animation started about two weeks after the lockdown. So we completed every frame of animation under those circumstances and delivered on time.

What was really interesting about the movie was the storyline of change—going into the city and working through scary memories; and also learning that being brave doesn’t mean you’re never scared. When the movie released, it was just as restrictions were starting to open up, [but] there were still masks in the theaters and capacity limits. It was a really intimidating time—so in a way, Chase’s story really resonated and reflected what children, and even their parents, were feeling at the time.

Kaufman: PAW Patrol has made a social impact as well, partnering with organizations like Canine Companions that help provide and train guide dogs for those who need them…and when Paramount launched a reusable face mask program at the beginning of the pandemic, PAW Patrol masks were made available to make the new circumstances more manageable for kids.

Demas: The challenge that we continue to face is the rising cost of goods. We have to be creative about how we make our products and how we assemble. It’s all the way down the product development cycle—from the beginning of the design to the end when you’re manufacturing. There’s a lot of creativity that goes into not only the upfront design, but also the backend with our Hong Kong and Asia partners. It just takes a lot more time to figure that out and maintain what’s important to the brand and its level of quality.

Rex Ishibashi (co-founder and CEO, Originator): Once we became part of Spin in 2021, we immediately started a design around what PAW could be in the app space. At the time, there were a lot of apps out there that were doing education but didn’t engage kids and didn’t want to be played because they were too dry. We felt like we could thread the needle and balance both education and entertainment. And it was really interesting seeing the arc of how the series had evolved over time. Now we’re on the eve of the second movie, and the entertainment group has developed the PAW Brand Bible—which is this thick, electronic document that we were going through to learn all the rules of the franchise. Using that document and experience from our previous mobile titles, we made our core vision for PAW Patrol Academy, which is the franchise’s first educational app.

A bone-afide franchise

Falcone: We’ve always put all our creative energy and efforts into creating an ensemble that any kid could get behind. Lo and behold, from that sprung an incredible 10 seasons!

Strimaitis: We were really excited to bring a world of dogs and transforming gadgets to life, [not knowing] that it would become the phenomenon it is today.

Dodge: Anyone who works in entertainment will say that to get even one IP like this is rare, and it’s rewarding. I think PAW Patrol will be evergreen, and the kids who watch it today will look back as adults with fondness.

Demas: Never underestimate the intelligence of a preschooler. I think they’re pretty sophisticated now, and they’re exposed to a lot more through phones and YouTube. You have to remember that all of these dynamics around kids are changing, but play is such an important part. That doesn’t change; you can’t leapfrog that. You still have to give kids a childhood and tangible things to play with to spark their imagination. And I think when you combine storytelling with toys, that’s the secret recipe to our success.

This article first appeared on Kidscreen.

The executives and creative talent behind PAW Patrol shared some PAWsome facts about Nickelodeon's beloved preschool franchise at Ottawa International Animation Festival (OIAF) 2023!

- PAW Patrol is now in 180 countries and has 350 million viewers, says panelists;

- The secret to PAW Patrol’s success is that the studio kept the pups “cute”, says Frank Falcone - Keeping them as puppies who are adorable, silly and not knowing how to resolve every problem builds their appeal with kids, adds Falcone;

- The PAW Patrol multiverse expanded with Rubble & Crew because Spin Master wanted to get into construction play and also keep the long-running show fresh on the screen and toy aisle, says Spin Master’s Jason McKenzie;

- PAW Patrol is getting a refreshed look, with hair, more anatomically correct and rerigged characters and more squash and squish. It’s a big “undertaking from a pipeline and execution standpoint” says Spin Master’s Dan Mokriy.

Below is a selection of photos from the PAW Patrol panel at OIAF 2023. All photos courtesy of Kidscreen.

PAW Patrol panel at OIAF 2023

PAW Patrol panel at OIAF 2023

PAW Patrol panel at OIAF 2023

PAW Patrol panel at OIAF 2023

PAW Patrol panel at OIAF 2023

PAW Patrol fans can stream full episodes of PAW Patrol on Paramount+. Try it FREE today at

H/T: Special thanks to RegularCapital for the news!

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