Dusty Crophopper and his friends are back in a new adventure in Planes: Fire & Rescue. Is this animated sequel a family adventure worth checking out or is it a disappointment? 411's Jeffrey Harris checks in with his full review!
Directed By: Roberts Gannaway Written By: Jeffrey M. Howard Runtime: 84 minutes MPAA Rating: Rated PG
Dusty Crophopper - Dane Cook Blade Ranger - Ed Harris Lil’ Dipper - Julie Bowen Cad Spinner - John Michael Higgins Maru - Curtis Armstrong Mayday - Hal Holbrook Windlifter - Wes Studi Chug - Brad Garrett Dottie - Teri Hatcher Skipper - Stacy Keach Sparky - Danny Mann Leadbottom - Cedric the Entertainer Dynamite - Regina King Avalanche - Bryan Callen Drip - Matt Jones Danny Pardo - Blackout Harvey - Jerry Stiller
Dusty Crophopper and his ragtag gang from Planes are back for another animated adventure. If this turnaround for the new sequel appears quickly, since Planes just came out last August, that is because Planes: Fire & Rescue began production a short time after Planes. The films are produced by DisneyToon Studios and not Pixar or Walt Disney Animation. Planes was originally designed as a direct-to-video offshoot of the Cars films; but of course, Disney opted to put some more money into the production and release it in theaters. Ultimately, the strategy paid off. The first Planes film made $219 million at the worldwide box office off a budget of about $50 million. Plus, since the Cars franchise is a merchandising juggernaut, it stands to reason that Planes would be as well. So, here we are with Planes: Fire & Rescue.
After the first film, Dusty (Cook) is now a world famous championship racing plane. However, things go haywire when his engine seizes in a practice run with his coach Skipper (Keach). According to Dusty’s mechanic, Dottie (Hatcher), Dusty’s gearbox is damaged. If he pushes it too fast, his engine will stop and he will crash. His parts are out of production and too complex to make from scratch. In short, Dusty's racing days are over. Dusty messes up on an emotional flight and accidentally causes his airfield to catch fire. Unfortunately, the airfield’s old firehouse truck Mayday (Holbrook) is not able to do an adequate job on his own, so the group has to tear down the water tower to put out the fire. If the airfield is unable to get another certified firefighter on the job soon, Mayday’s career is over, and the airfield is closed until a second firefighter is hired.
Determined to save his friend from redundancy, Dusty heads to a national park to train under Blade Ranger (Harris) and his team to receive firefighting certification. Dusty used to be a cropduster, so he has the capacity to drop water or retardant to put out fires. Ranger doubts Dusty’s sincerity, but puts him through the paces. Unfortunately for Ranger and his colorful crew, the superintendent of the park and manager of the park’s lavish resort, Cad Spinner (Higgins), has cut the fire crew’s budget to revamp the resort. Another problem is that fires seem to break out in the park daily. Dusty still holds out hope that he can race again and a replacement part can be attained, but he still wants to help and become a firefighter.
What is most impressive about Planes: Fire & Rescue was the animation. DisneyToon Studios clearly brought their A-game to this production because the movie looks fantastic. The shift in tone from Planes, more of a sports racing story, to Fire & Rescue, is actually enjoyable. The sequences where the fire flyers soar into danger are quite elaborate and better than I expected. The effort to switch to turn the Planes films into theatrical releases was definitely put to good use.
The voice-acting and performances are actually quite good. Since this is not the typical gigantically budgeted animated feature we usually see from Disney, the film utilizes a broader range of talented actors instead of big names and movie stars in marginal roles for the cast. To be honest, it is really annoying to me when movies like the Kung Fu Panda use all of their big stars in basically pointless or tiny roles. Kung Fu Panda 2 had Jean-Claude Van Damme playing a crocodile and there was nothing funny about it. So what was the point of that celebrity stunt casting? That role could have gone to any number of talented working voice actors out there, but because there was a space to fill, it went to Van Damme for a handful of lines? Planes: Fire & Rescue does not really have that problem. There are some recognizable names and longtime actors among the cast, but not really big superstars.
One of the biggest problems with Fire & Rescue is that it is too short. Only about 70 or 75 minutes had passed by the time the credits started. Again, I realize this was originally a DTV project that got expanded for a theatrical release, but the story moves a bit too quickly. Dusty is practically already firefighting by the time he gets to the park. There is really no dramatic buildup to this moment at all. And not long after that, the big climax is already there.
Another major problem is that Dusty’s gear defect essentially keeps him from speeding up. This is something that he essentially needs in his training and to be certified as a firefighter. No one has the gumption to say, “Hey you shouldn’t be a firefighter without getting this defect fixed.” The plot does not figure out a way around this issue other than presenting Dusty’s defect as a fear he needs to overcome. So, he needs to overcome the fear of his engine breaking down and crashing to his death. Since Dusty is not able to speed up, he and his colleagues are in danger when they are trying to put out deadly fires. It is irresponsible.
The premise of Dusty losing his life and dream as a racer, but finding meaning through helping people and becoming a firefighter, is actually interesting. This idea clearly means a lot to the filmmakers as it is a loving tribute to those who selflessly put themselves in harm’s way to save lives. However, the way this plot evolves and its ultimate resolution cannot help but make me feel that director Roberts Gannaway basically cheated everyone out of that premise. The resolution is half-baked and more than a little disappointing.
The 411: Planes: Fire & Rescue is actually far from bad. It is a decent diversion and an acceptable animated kids and family film. Fire & Rescue is short, but at the story's expense. The animation and action sequences are expertly put together and quite entertaining to watch. There are some amusing characters or bits of dialogue, but none of the characters are as funny or memorable as the best that Disney or Pixar have had to offer.