Disney Planes was a spin-off film of Disney’s Cars, telling the story of Dusty Crophopper, a crop dusting airplane who aspires to the big world of airplane racing. The film wasn’t a huge success with critics (note: not the primary audience), but I understand that kids (note: the primary audience) enjoyed it. Now we have the sequel to the film, subtitled Fire and Rescue, which continues Dusty’s tale. Let’s go for a spin while I tell you about it.
The film opens where the first one left off, and Dusty (voiced by comedian Dane Cook) is now a successful race plane. However, during a routine practice run, his gearbox—having had enough of all this racing—decides to give in. It does so spectacularly, and the eventual result is that Dusty is now unable to push his engine to the kinds of speeds needed to race. This is the airplane equivalent of having an angina attack with a dodgy ticker. One bit of muleheaded stubbornness leads to another, and Dusty, in an accident, causes a fire at the Propwash Junction airport. Mayday, the aging fire engine, is barely able to contain the blaze, and this leads to a government inspection, which in turns leads to Propwash Junction being shut down due to insufficient fire protection. Dusty, feeling guilty, offers to become trained as Mayday’s assistant fire fighter, and this is how he ends up at Piston Peak National Park, training under Blade Ranger (voiced by Ed Harris) and his team. The plot from here on out is fairly predictable, but it’s important to bear in mind that this is a kids’ movie, after all. This is a point that many reviewers and critics seem to either forget about or gloss over.
From a kid’s perspective, the film is a fairly exciting, if minorly moralistic (“you too can prevent florist friars forest fires!”). Artistically speaking, the movie’s scenery is gorgeous, and it’s clear that the design team did their homework regarding the national park setting. The camera languishes over the glorious pine forest at times, highlighting the beauty of the scene. Here, watch the trailer and you’ll see for yourself.
It’s hard to remember sometimes just how completely digital it all is. The climax of the film is a thrill ride for kids, and I do wonder if younger viewers might find it a little TOO tense. Still, all’s obviously well that ends well.
Naturally, you as an adult will be going to watch this film with your sproglings, so you’re probably going to ask “is it suitable fare for adult viewers?” Well, yes and no. It’s far more exciting than the first film was, and the humour is wonderful (see the “pickup trucks” line from the trailer for an example), but there are definitely going to be bits where younger parents might miss the joke. For example, if you don’t know who Eric Estrada is and how he relates to “CHiPS” (and not the potato variety, either), then there’s an entire segment that will…well….go over your head like a plane full of 80s cultural references. You can actually tell the ages of the scriptwriters from the jokes.
Many of the voices from the first move reprise their roles in this sequel, and the voicework is about what you’d expect from a Disney feature. The film score is so heavily country and western that I’m surprised Clint Eastwood isn’t in this film. It jars somewhat with the rest of the feeling of the setting, killing the sense of immersion you might have. I’m not certain if kids will notice the discrepancy, but it’s there nonetheless.
That all being said, Planes: Fire and Rescue is definitely superior to its predecessor, despite it being quite clearly a non-Pixar production. The story is fun and quite often funny, and while a good amount of the humour is definitely aimed at the adults watching the show, there are still a good number of hyuks to be had by the younger crowd. It’s a heartening story with a good moral behind it, and you won’t come away feeling as if you’d just watched a dud. Fire and Rescue doesn’t exactly soar into the clouds, but it’s good to know that it’s no crash landing either.
Final score: 7.5 burning prawns out of 10
Director: Robert Gannaway
Producer: Ferrell Barron
Screenplay: Jeffrey Howard, John Lasseter, Robert Gannaway, Peggy Holmes
Starring: Dane Cook, Ed Harris, Julie Bowen, Wes Studi, Stacy Keach, Curtis Armstrong, Erik Estrada, Patrick Warburton
Studio: DisneyToon Studios
Distributor: Walt Disney Pictures
Age Rating: All
Release Date: 26 September 2014
Running Time: 86 minutes