If you have a child around the age of three or four, you’ve definitely had to watch Paw Patrol. The series that has taken preschoolers hostage focuses on Ryder, a ten-year-old megalomaniac who controls a team of search-and-rescue dogs in the town of Adventure Bay. However, years before Ryder and his pups charged into your television screens, there was another, more welcoming version of Paw Patrol on Nick Jr.: Wonder Pets. And it’s far superior.
Following a trio of classroom pets — Linny the Guinea Pig, Turtle Tuck, and Ming-Ming Duckling — Wonder Pets hits many of the same plot points as Paw Patrol: there are other pets to save, and only our spunky team of animals can come to the rescue. Every episode the classroom pets come alive at school after all the kids leave, Toy Story-style and team up to save the animal-in-peril of the day.
Now, Wonder Pets is still a kids’ show. This means three things: it’s repetitive, the music is made up of mostly rudimentary earworms – the phone song that starts every episode will stay stuck in your head for days – and the animation is bright and colorful. But, thankfully, Wonder Pets asks for less from you than something like Paw Patrol. It’s charming and fun, never bludgeoning you over the head with its own cleverness. Each episode is a tidy affair, with initial conflict, a secondary problem, and a joyful resolution. Not exactly Inception levels of plot threading, but it gets the job done.
But the part of Wonder Pets that makes it so much better than Paw Patrol? It doesn’t have a human character. Ryder is a borderline fascist authority figure, given his complete control not just over his team of puppies but also the entire community of Adventure Bay. He’s a CEO with no regard for anything except his own glory. He’s Trump, if Trump were more capable of commanding his underlings. While the puppies are all pretty cute – except for Chase, who comes off as more obnoxious when leading the squad – Ryder never reads as anything other than a god figure, and not a particularly benevolent one at that.
Whereas you can never really shake Ryder’s impact on both the storyline and the characters in Paw Patrol, the trio in Wonder Pets are always in control of their own missions and successes. Sure, Linny defaults as the leader – after all, the final show was developed from a series of shorts called Linny the Guinea Pig – but Tuck and Ming-Ming are never short-shifted. The lessons learned on the show are more communal, too: whereas Ryder is ultimately in control of how the Paw Patrol acts and what missions they respond to, you never feel an unseen power guiding the Wonder Pets. They help, because they want to and because they can. It teaches kids to rely on each other to get things done, rather than wait for someone else – an adult, or a bigger kid – to point them in the right direction.
Additionally, the gender ratio of the Wonder Pets is a lot easier to take than that of Paw Patrol: where as the former has two female characters, including the nominal lead, the latter features Ryder and five male dogs, versus just one girl pup: Skye. While outcry against that lack of inclusion has been raging online since at least 2015 – there’s even a hashtag, #IncludeTheGirls, directed at the show — it’s still jarring that a kids’ show in 2018 would continue to ignore the discrepancy.
As an adult sitting through these shows with kids, it’s hard to say that they will do anything more than give you 24 minutes of peace. However, you can choose which type of lessons you want your kids learning, and in that regard, Wonder Pets shines above the pack. While the show is seemingly on indefinite hiatus right now, you could do a lot worse than grabbing the 3 seasons on Amazon and setting your kids up with them every day. Whereas Ryder and his cronies are infinitely more popular with kids today, there’s no reason to become a slave to that social pressure. Instead, embrace the bond shared by Linny, Tuck, and Ming-Ming.
You can watch the episodes of Wonder Pets here.