REVIEW WRITTEN BY NATHAN LERNER
For 21st Century Media
“Planes: Fire and Rescue” is a sequel to the 2013 Pixar animated 3D film, which was simply titled as “Planes.”
Once again, the characters are crudely anthropomorphized airplanes, trucks, and other vehicles. Googly eyeballs are plastered on their windshields, while expressive, oversized mouths appear below.
In “Planes,” Dusty Crophopper (Dane Cook) started out being a crop-dusting airplane, mired in obscurity. He gained celebrity status by winning an around the world race.
As the sequel opens, he is preparing to race again. However, while flying, Dusty encounters difficulties and nearly crashes. Ace mechanic, Dottie (Teri Hatcher) determines that his gear box is deteriorating and must be replaced. Alas, efforts to ferret out a compatible substitute prove futile. The necessary part is so old, it is no longer being manufactured. As a consequence, Dusty’s career in international racing comes to an abrupt halt.
What will Dusty do now that he can no longer race? It turns out that Propwash Junction, where Dusty is based, requires a certified fire-fighting vehicle to augment senescent fire-truck, Mayday (Hal Holbrook). Otherwise, the facility will be shut down by government bureaucrats. After discussing the matter with Mayday, Dusty decides to find purpose as a retrofitted aerial fire-fighter.
Dusty joins the Piston Peak Air attack team as a trainee. He is under the supervision of the leader of the Smokejumpers, hard-nosed Blade Runner (Ed Harris). Dusty’s new sidekicks include the flirtatious Lil’ Dipper (Juie Bowen); heavy-lift helicopter, Windlifter (Wes Studi); and former military transport, Cabbie McHale (Dale Dye).
Of course, a forest fire eventually erupts and threatens a nearby tourist facility. Its crass operator, a luxury SUV, not so subtly named Cad (John Michael Huggins) adamantly rejects suggestions that the venue be evacuated for safety reasons. Even this unsympathetic character is presented as being more officious than venal.
The depiction of the raging fire and the efforts to battle it provide the most visually arresting scenes in this film. How will Dusty acquit himself in this new role as a firefighter?
The film pays tribute to the traditional value of perseverance in the face of adversity. This is epitomized by a moment in which Blade Runner reflects, “Life doesn’t always go the way you want it to.”
Throughout the film, the score by Mark Mancina is augmented by several songs. The film’s theme and another tune is performed by county crooner, Brad Paisley. It also includes “Muskrat Love” by Captain & Tennille and “Thunderstruck” by AC/DC. These performers will be familiar to the parents of the kids in the audience. However, they will have little if any resonance to the actual target demographic.
Pixar launched in 1995 with “Toy Story,” the first in the beloved trilogy. Subsequently, they were responsible for such critically acclaimed and commercially successful films as “The Incredibles,” “Finding Nemo,” “Ratatouille,” “WALL-E,” “Up,” “Brave,” along with “Monsters, inc.” and its sequel. Over the years, the studio has garnered 27 Academy Awards, 7 Golden Globes, and 11 Grammys. Their pedigree was tarnished by the release of “Cars” and “Cars 2.” “Planes” and this sequel are part of this talking vehicles subgenre. The quartet are of a decidedly lesser quality.
Like its precursor, “Planes: Fire and Rescue” is a lightweight film, whose appeal will be limited to pre-schoolers and slightly older children in the earliest stages of grade school.
The film’s abbreviated running time includes seven minutes of end credits. If you subtract this padding, the actual running time is a mere 76 minutes.
The simple concepts and brisk pacing make this a suitable film to introduce young children to the theatrical experience. Otherwise, “Planes: Fire and Rescue” is a lackluster, albeit altogether harmless, affair.
“Planes: Fire and Rescue”
**1/2 PG (for action and some peril) 83 minutes
Nathan Lerner sees over 200 feature films a year. He welcomes feedback at