Planes: Fire & Rescue
2-Disc Blu-ray l DVD l Digital HD
Directed by Bobs Gannaway
Starring Dane Cook, Ed Harris, Julie Bowen, Hal Holbrook, Brad Garrett, Stacy Keach, Teri Hatcher, Curtis Armstrong
Walt Disney Home Entertainment
Release Date: Nov 4, 2014
Planes: Fire & Rescue represents one of those types of films you may overlook due to its seemingly kiddie nature and its sequel of a spinoff status, but it warrants some credit. This improvement to its predecessor touches on some deep themes in an uplifting story of second chances and new opportunities that life presents.
The Blu-ray home release transfers the film most wonderfully, although the dearth of bonus features — once again, a Walt Disney Home Entertainment shortcoming — only slightly detracts from the overall framework. Don’t let the Cars association, which some might see as a negative, cloud your thinking. Planes: Fire & Rescue does not crash at any point in its quick 84 minutes, but rather soars smoothly and grandly.
The DisneyToon Studios production takes the comical characters of Propwash Junction (another location in the Cars universe) to higher levels of excitement, fun, and quality in Planes: Fire & Rescue. Upon watching the animated adventure for a second time, I came away thinking of three main elements that the movie accomplishes. I will discuss these momentarily. These suggest that the house that once churned out underwhelming direct-to-video sequels has located its sweet spot. Recent offerings like Tinker Bell-focused Secret of the Wings represented a promising turn, but this Planes sequel may be its best release since John Lasseter and crew came in to reform the studio eight years ago. Sure, DisneyToon Studios may never reach the heights of its contemporaries Walt Disney Animation Studios and Pixar due to resources, but it’s moving in an upward swing.
First, Planes: Fire & Rescue incorporates some of the resonant themes that Disney and Pixar almost always exemplify in their movies. After Dusty must adjust his life goals due to a mechanical issue, he enters the field of firefighting. He seeks out this prospect as a way to support his town and also to avoid the fact that he cannot race (for the time being). We see Dusty’s troubled perspective on the situation and can relate to him — as we should with any protagonist — because his selflessness comes through. Dane Cook, as the voice of Dusty, gives a subdued and even poignant performance as this former cropduster. Complemented by a terrific voice cast that includes major stars and character actors like Julie Bowen, Ed Harris, and Curtis Armstrong, just to name a few, Cook belongs in good company. I appreciate how Planes tackles the reformation of dreams and life paths in sincere fashion, much like Monsters University and Wreck-It Ralph.
Second, the movie possesses a surprisingly solid script that exceeds much of its similar fare (the original Planes and Cars 2, for instance). The storytelling blends this dramatic element, coupled with the interesting backstory behind Harris’ Blade Ranger character, with the laugh-out-loud comedy. Some of the dialogue appeals to the kiddos — yes, body humor factors in during a few moments — but other times the laughs are more subtle. When one car character mentioned being dumped for a hybrid and said it didn’t hear the hybrid coming, I felt that quote represented the cunning nature of Planes‘ humor. I love its breezy banter and sharp one-liners, matched only by the smart pop culture references. The CHiPs spoof works quite well, as do the various nods to publications, such as “Cariety.”
Finally, Planes: Fire & Rescue is on par with many of Disney and Pixar’s best-looking animated productions of recent years. While this DisneyToon Studios production cost a mere $50 million, you could never tell. The set pieces are quite grand and awe-inspiring. The aerial firefighting scenes demonstrate this most, but even Dusty’s training scenes contain the detail and beautiful cinematography that you might find in Frozen or Up. That’s not a stretch. As the animation appears pristine, so does the sound. Mark Mancina’s optimistic score fits perfectly and the few songs add context. I think Spencer Lee’s moving “Still I Fly” should garner an Oscar nomination.
For a full analysis of Planes: Fire & Rescue, check out my review during its theatrical release.
It almost goes without saying that Planes: Fire & Rescue is one of those movies that you can enjoy looking at and listening to, even if you take away the plot and dialogue. Once again, Walt Disney Home Entertainment’s transfer of an animated release deserves a five-star medal for quality. The peppy picture shines even more than the glossy planes themselves. The only apparent dirt comes from the actual soil in the Piston Peak environments. The consistent presentation carries over to the sound. The aircraft rumble and no amount of accurate-sounding effects hamper the characters’ voices.
“Vitaminamulch: Air Spectacular,” a cute six-minute short, shows Chug and Dusty standing in for Vandenomium and Air Devil Jones, two awesome stunt vehicles absent from an air show. Their attempts to impersonate the duo are pretty disastrous, complete with an unexpected fire. Animated slapstick at its finest, I would argue this can compete with some of Pixar’s more hilarious short films, such as Presto. The short warrants multiple viewings to catch the amusing details, such as a Vitaminamulch flailing arm inflatable, akin to one you might see at a car dealership.
“Welcome to Piston Peak” plays like a ’60s-era travelogue. It utilizes some film footage, artwork, and a witty attitude that parodies the old-style advertisements. If you wanted to know the names of each of the sights, such as Gasket Geiser (an Old Faithful spoof), here is your opportunity. Unnecessary, but clever.
“‘CHoPS’ TV Promo” basically represents a chance to see the one-minute crime show spoof from the film edited in a slightly different manner.
“Air Attack: Firefighters from the Sky” represents the best bonus feature in the mix. Too bad it’s only five minutes. We see the filmmakers visit wildfire air attack bases to ensure accurate depictions. The aerial shots look awesome, but the feature does not shy away from the dangers of the profession. “The research really inspired the characters,” Bobs Gannaway, the film’s director, said. Real-life experts served as experts to add their input on dialogue and imagery. I would have loved to see these characteristics explored in more depth, but alas, we are only treated to brief extra context.
“Deleted Scenes,” each with intros from the filmmakers, include “Honkers” and “Dusty’s Dream No More.” The first shows the country bar where the vehicles drink and dance away their mechanic sorrows. Interestingly, we see most of this version in the finished product. This is just a way to see the rough animation version. Perhaps the title is a misnomer? The second, only in the form of sketches, finds a depressed Dusty unsure about his future. They’re only about four minutes long total.
“‘Still I Fly’ Music Video by Spencer Lee” blends the movie footage with shots of the young performer in a standard two-minute music video. This should encourage you to download the uplifting song.
“Animated Shorts” includes “Dipper” and “Smoke Jumpers,” allowing you to appreciate a bit more of some of the characters. Bowen’s side-splitting work continues here, as her over-the-top effervescent plane obtains her 15 seconds — or rather, one minute — of fame. The ending is priceless. The second short advertises the high-energy and even higher intensity gang of heroic daredevils.
Almost all of the bonus content gets high marks in quality (hence, a more favorable grade), but the abbreviated length of the appealing air attack short — and general minimal amount of content overall — put the brakes on ranking this section any higher.
Bonus Features: B-
Overall Grade: B
Planes: Fire & Rescue is a go for anyone who appreciates a heartwarming tale in a clean and pretty package. For this reviewer, who generally shies away from encouraging sequels, to actually want DisneyToon Studios to add a third entry in this franchise, only means Planes: Fire & Rescue skyrockets in my book. Like any feature, it has blatant kinks, but the overwhelming grace and earnestness allow for smooth sailing all the way.
This is Brett Nachman, signing off. Follow me on Twitter for alerts of new editions of Disney In Depth, Thursdays on Geeks of Doom.