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Disney In Depth: ‘Planes: Fire & Rescue’ Movie Review
Brett Nachman   |  @   |  

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Planes: Fire & Rescue
Directed by Roberts Gannaway
Starring Dane Cook, Ed Harris, Julie Bowen, Brad Garrett, Teri Hatcher, Hal Holbrook, Stacy Keach
Rated PG | 84 Minutes
Release Date: July 18, 2014

Fasten your seatbelt and hang on for a high-flying and exhilarating sequel to Planes that explores the work of firefighters within this world dominated by various forms of transportation.

Planes: Fire & Rescue is a surprising sequel in that it elevates its aerial folk to new emotional heights and takes viewers on an exciting film flight for just over 80 minutes. The truly stunning visuals, score, and characters, enveloped within a by-the-numbers storyline and enhanced by the compelling message, work at full speed. This is one adventure you don’t want to miss before it leaves the gate – er, theaters.

Yes, it could seem somewhat peculiar that I would be advocating a sequel to a film maligned by many critics. But why? The first Planes was more than passable entertainment, as its storytelling, though generic, possessed likeable lead Dusty Crophopper (voiced by Dane Cook) aiming to complete a ’round-the-world race, despite his fear of flying. Its cleverness, solid vocal performances, and lovely imagery was unexpected and delightful for a movie once destined for a direct-to-video release. The adventure may not have been at the same quality of Frozen or Monsters University – the studio’s other theatrically animated movies that debuted that year – but it sure eliminated the stigma that DisneyToon Studios only produced forgettable films. Planes: Fire & Rescue lifts off of its predecessor’s foundation by steering Dusty into dangerous and more gripping territory.

Forced to face the possibility that he may not ever have the chance to compete in races after discovering he has a faulty gearbox, Dusty becomes immersed in aerial firefighting. Dusty needs firefighting certification to maintain his hometown Propwash Junction’s ability to function, so he enlists in Piston Peak National Park’s firefighting crew, led by the austere and mysterious Blade Ranger (Ed Harris). He quickly meets his biggest fan, the spunky and absolutely hilarious Lil’ Dipper (Modern Family‘s Julie Bowen). Among the other colorful characters Dusty comes in contact with are: sardonic Maru, a mechanic tug; Windlifter, a spiritual helicopter; and Winnie and Harvey, a couple of vacationing RVs voiced by Jerry Stiller and Anne Meara.

Much of the plot of Planes: Fire & Rescue involves Dusty’s inner turmoil through facing the possibility he may not race again, but the main scenes and action encompass the heroism of these aerial firefighters.

This is where the film kicks into high gear. DisneyToon Studios has crafted its most visually enveloping production to date with Planes: Fire & Rescue. The animation team must have worked on overdrive to accurately depict the scorching wildfires, pristine woodlands, and claustrophobic smoke. Thankfully, the movie does not limit these spectacular scenes to a mere few minutes, as at least one-third of this sequel would, in my mind, compare with the quality of recent Pixar and Disney Animation Studios entries.

This is one movie that deserves to be seen in 3D, if at all possible, as its soaring landscapes and enthusiastic displays of flight beg for the additional dimension. But even in a traditional viewing format, it immerses its audience into the well-designed environments and dramatic sequences.

But looking at pretty things on screen does not mean something has merit. Additional factors must work to power up a film. Most fortuitously, this sequel improves on Planes with an even better soundtrack, more realized characters, and a truckload supply of laughs. I enjoyed the first film, but Fire & Rescue works to enhance the world and its residents. Likewise, off the screen, the crew worked to flesh out what we see and hear. In regards to the sights, little details seem more plentiful. I identified a bunch of minute visuals in the background that remind me of the craftsmanship Pixar and Disney Animation put into each of its films. DisneyToon Studios’ film quality has been strong in recent years, and here the amount of detail is rich. For instance, I caught a “Cariety” newspaper clipping at one point and many other cute puns throughout the feature.

In terms of sounds, the crew commendably captured authentic-sounding audio to put you into the universe that these many methods of transportation inhabit. Most remarkable is Mark Mancina‘s score. The under-appreciated composer received praise for his magnetic tracks in the 2013 film. With Planes: Fire & Rescue he amplifies some familiar cues and adds some vigorous orchestration, most palpable during the action scenes. The film also includes a few good songs, including the pleasing pop rock piece “Still I Fly” by Spencer Lee and earnest “All In” by Brad Paisley.

Dusty, much like Cars‘ Lightning McQueen, matures over the course of the picture, but the sincere plane is actually more likeable. His relationship with Mayday (Hal Holbrook), a seasoned firefighter in Propwash Junction, is sweet, but not sappy. Here we see more of the picture’s subdued scenes – again, much like the initial Cars pic focusing on the bond between McQueen and Doc Hudson. These are characters we root for and enjoy seeing in multiple scenes. Many of the new characters are responsible for this, as they provide some of the film’s most hearty laughs. A spoof of a recognizable ’70s television show is ridiculously funny, as are Dipper and Maru. Bowen’s delivery of “I like watching you sleep” to Cook’s Dusty makes for just one of a bunch of great lines. Not all of them are showcased in the trailer, as most comedies often feature. Props to that!

Planes: Fire & Rescue may not be the type of film that the ordinary individual would choose to catch in theaters due to the harsh stigma that has plagued the franchise, but that’s disappointing. It may not be as profound as some of the most respected animated features, but I couldn’t help but be taken by its resolve and wit. I cannot think of any animated film that has commenced with a dedication – in this case, honoring real-life firefighters. This could be viewed by cynics as a device to win over audiences, but the film’s genuine tone of admiring individuals who enter harm’s way to save others’ lives is unmistakable. Planes: Fire & Rescue carries a few kinks in its routine storytelling, but its overwhelming charm and wholeheartedness leads me to want to campaign for a third film.

Grade: B

Planes: Fire & Rescue Movie Poster

This is Brett Nachman, signing off. Follow me on Twitter for alerts of new editions of Disney In Depth, Thursdays on Geeks of Doom.

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