To people who are not me, this would be another lean week for movies. However, since I automatically line up for all movies concerning airplanes and/or firefighting, I was excited for this weekend. I thought the only problem with Planes was its resemblance (story-wise) to Cars, so this time, with firefighting planes, it had to be different. Right?
After a gearbox failure a racing airplane trains as a firefighter in order to help save his hometown.
As a pure Disney effort rather than a Disney-Pixar film, Planes: Fire and Rescue is pretty good. The characters are cute, there are scenes of exciting action, and a handful of jokes that made me laugh out loud. Unfortunately Fire and Rescue lacked heart, which means that by next week I’ll probably have forgotten all about it.
Before I get into the film itself, let me pause to complain about the fact that Planes: Fire and Rescue didn’t have an opening short film. Most animated movies these days have them, so it was kind of a letdown. But don’t worry. I fixed it.
Planes: Fire and Rescue could have been made as a spinoff, but they decided to make it a sequel by having Dusty Crophopper (Dane Cook) come back as the main character, largely (I think) for name recognition. So Dusty, who spent the entire last movie transitioning from crop duster to world champion racer, is unceremoniously kicked out of the racing circuit by a gearbox problem and forced to get certified as a firefighter to save his town’s corn festival (yes, really).
Look who it is, kids! It’s… um… the orange plane! From the first one!
Dusty leaves behind his support characters and goes to Piston Peak National Park to make support characters out of the members of the Piston Peak Air Attack team. The role of mechanic-who-is-a-forklift goes to Maru (Curtis Armstrong). Dusty’s idiot friend Chug the fuel truck is largely supplanted by Mayday (Hal Holbrook), an idiot fire truck.
Sorry, sir. I understood from Mater that it was charming to be rusty and clueless.
Rochelle the pink airplane is replaced Dipper (Julie Bowen) the yellow water-bomber as Dusty’s love interest, but in an interesting twist, Dipper is more like a fangirl than a real love interest. She spends more time creepily stalking Dusty than is probably comfortable for anyone.
Apparently she learned her moves from the Twilight School for Romance (and Restraining Orders)
And of course, there’s the role of obligatory gruff mentor-who-has-a-tragic-secret-backstory, which was filled by Doc Hudson the Hudson Hornet in Cars and Skipper the Corsair in Planes. Blade Ranger (Ed Harris), who I think is a Bell Jet Ranger, takes up the mantle for Planes: Fire and Rescue.
Grouch grouch grouch, you know nothing, Dusty Crophopper.
There’s also Windlifter (Wes Studi) a Native American Sikorsky Skycrane whose job it is to make up random metaphors and be psychic about what the fire’s going to do, and Cabbie (Dale Dye), a cargo plane who spends most of his time listening to the radio over headphones, despite the fact that he has no appendages with which he could have put them on.
Does he use his prop blades like fingers or something?
Cabbie is pretty much just in the story to carry around my favorite new characters: the Smokejumpers. They’re modeled after the real firefighters who parachute into wildfire zones to dig fire breaks and whatnot. Dynamite (Regina King), Pinecone (Corri English), Avalanche (Bryan Callen), Blackout (Danny Pardo), and Drip (Matt Jones) are four-wheelers with bulldozer blades, buzzsaws, and log lifters who parachute into fire zones to push stuff around.
The plot concerns Dusty’s struggle to achieve certification with a busted gearbox. For some reason, fire certification involves flying through a canyon, under a bridge, and up a waterfall, which will IN NO WAY turn out to exactly mirror the heroic climax of the film. Fire and busted gearboxes aren’t obvious enough antagonists for a kids’ movie, so there’s also Cad Spinner (John Michael Higgins) the Cadillac Escalade who diverted most of the fire squadron’s budget into a party at the Fusa Lodge that will IN NO WAY be endangered by fire.
The entire thing is built out of wood. What could go wrong?
I’m being pretty scornful of the plot and the characters here, but I have to admit: when the planes go into action (to the tune of AC/DC, naturally) it’s pretty bad ass. Even if all they really get to do is spray red fire retardant foam over the fire and then fly away. What could have transformed Planes: Fire and Rescue from ‘cool’ to ‘Best Animated Picture Contender’ is character growth. In Cars, Lightning MacQueen grows from a selfish, arrogant jerk into a good person (car?)
Scorchy says: ‘Character arc’ isn’t just some word in the screenwriting glossary you can ignore.
Dusty grew somewhat in Planes by overcoming a fear of heights, but in this film, his only internal obstacle is his bitterness over having to give up racing, and even then it comes to nothing because the world of Planes has to go back to its status quo at the end.
Ooh, he’s a different color now, oooh.
For this reason, I think Fire and Rescue would have been a better movie with a different main character: namely a younger Blade Ranger who has just been through his backstory tragedy. Now that would have been a moving story! As it is, the most moving part of Fire and Rescue is the dedication at the beginning that thanks the world’s real firefighters.
Because in reality, there are people in those planes.
But I suppose I’m analyzing it too much. Disney wasn’t looking to make a classic, here. They don’t expect any young viewers to cherish the memory of seeing this movie well into their old age. The goal was 90 minutes of enjoyment for little kids who like fire trucks and talking vehicles. And in that light, Planes: Fire and Rescue succeeds.