Planes: Fire & Rescue

Dusty Crophopper (voiced by Dane Cook) is continuing his winning ways on the racing circuit; however, during one race he feels a problem somewhere in his engine and nearly crashes.  His mechanic tells Dusty that there's a flaw in his gear box.  That part is no longer manufactured and unless they can find one in a junk yard or in a warehouse and he pushes himself past 80% of torque, it's liable to break and seize up his engine.  Sharing a drink at the local watering hole, Dusty's former boss, who has heard about his problem, offers him his old job back.  Fuel truck Chug (voiced by Brad Garrett) says Dusty will be back on the racing circuit in no time once a replacement gearbox is found.  When Chug looks for Dusty to agree, everyone notices he's gone. Dusty is flying and pushing himself up to 80% of torque.  When he goes past that limit, he hears an alarm installed by his mechanic.  Dusty throttles back but isn't paying attention and clips a high-tension power line tower.  Coming in for a rough landing, Dusty slams into an awning that collapses and causes a fire.  The airport fire truck, Mayday (voiced by Hal Holbrook), rolls out to put out the blaze; but due to his age, and holes in his water hose, can't douse the flames.  Dusty, Mayday and others team up to pull down the water tower, extinguishing the fire.  The next day, the airport certification team comes to investigate.  They order the airport shut down until Mayday is upgraded with better equipment and a second firefighting vehicle is added.  Feeling guilty, Dusty offers to become the second fire fighter since his racing days appear to be over. Dusty heads off to Piston Peak National Park and meet up with Blade Ranger (voiced by Ed Harris), the leader of a group of firefighting aircraft that protect the park from wild fires, and become a certified firefighter.  Blade isn't impressed with Dusty but fellow fire plane Dipper (voiced by Julie Bowen) certainly is and doesn't hide her attraction.  Blade pushes Dusty very hard and doesn't pull any punches.  Talking with Chug and his friends back home, Dusty learns a gear box that the gang found has arrived but was in a mislabeled crate and won't work.  Depressed, Dusty heads out on a fire call with the rest of the crew but isn't focused and nearly crashes.  Can Dusty find the will and incentive to become a certified firefighting vehicle?
A sequel to "Planes," released less than a year ago, "Planes:  Fire & Rescue" might be thought of as a quick cash grab on a surprise hit.  That might actually be the case; but this second film is better than a cheap follow-up but not by much.
The story of "Planes:  Fire & Rescue" is very predictable.   It doesn't throw any surprises at the audience or even mix up the timing of story beats to try and make it appear fresh.  The movie runs only 84 minutes so the oft-repeated story structure seems even more familiar.  The visuals are spectacular which makes up a bit for the story's shortcomings; but it cannot completely eliminate the feeling that we've seen this done before and we've seen it done better.
While all the characters are about what you'd expect for a film with an audience range of five to 12, there was one that stuck out for all the wrong reasons.  Dipper, the character voiced by Julie Bowen, immediately attaches herself to Dusty as a possible boyfriend as soon as he arrives at the park.  She is played as a typical boy-crazy young woman who, despite her important job (and she's shown as being very competent while fighting fires), would chuck her life to the side in order to snag her a man.  It's the kind of 1950's character that still creeps in to films today.  This is especially true about films for younger audiences.  Maybe since the target audience is mostly in grade school, it's assumed they have at least a few friends who behave this way and maybe they do; however, it's a character that quickly becomes tiresome as she is shown latching on to Dusty at every opportunity.  Dusty is too polite to explain to her he's not interested in her as a romantic partner but I suspect if he had her reaction would have been to act like she didn't hear it and continue with her pursuit.  Being the only featured character that is female, Dipper's behavior is front and center which sets a bad example for the young girls in the audience.
The elderly aren't treated much better.  Hal Holbrook's Mayday is portrayed as something of a doddering old man who has to be shown he's coming up short as a firefighter by a shiny and new (meaning younger) fire truck.  He is talked down to and made to feel useless which leads the younger Dusty to feel sorry for him and come to the rescue.   While it's a good message that we should respect and assist our elderly relatives, the way it is handled here is about as subtle as a stick of dynamite.  There are other examples in the film of older characters being berated and requiring rescue.  These are somewhat more subtle but, when put in context with the earlier example; don't put the elderly in the best light.
I mentioned earlier about the visuals being very good and they are.  The characters are designed in a similar way to those in the "Cars" films making them very kid-friendly and non-threatening. The landscapes of the park are often spectacular with mountains and wind-carved rock formations.  The fire sequences may be the best part of the film.  The flames look alive and threatening with the massive smoke column taking on an ominous shape that appears to boil as it rises.  The glowing colors of the fire mix well with the bright and cheery pallet of the characters. It is a film that is almost worth the added cost of 3D.  While it won't knock you out of your seat with objects careening at your face, the added depth gives the movie an immersive quality that I found appealing.
"Planes:  Fire & Rescue" is rated PG for some peril and action.  Most of the peril involves characters being trapped or threatened by fire.  There is a rescue of two married characters that might upset the very youngest in the audience.  Some of the characters are cut off when a burning tree falls across their path.  There are a couple of crashes and some injuries that require extensive repair.  Foul language isn't an issue.
It frequently is spectacular to look at but "Planes:  Fire & Rescue" lacks the storytelling punch of the best Disney animation.  This film, which has the same production budget of the first at a relatively modest $50-million, is more of an investment with the hopes of as handsome a return  as they got with the previous film. While it doesn't feel cynical, it does strike me as lazy, by-the­ numbers filmmaking. Even if the target audience is children, they deserve better.
"Planes: Fire & Rescue" gets three guitars out of five.
This week some big muscle, a cranky realtor and a beautiful but reluctant superhero hit screens. What should I see and review next?  That is up to you.
And So It Goes-A cranky realtor on the edge of retirement has a granddaughter dropped in his lap and doesn't know what to do. He turns to a woman who lives nearby with plans to leave the little girl with her but soon begins to learn about love and himself.
Hercules-Having endured his legendary twel ve labors, Hercules, the Greek demigod, has his life as a sword-for-hire tested when the King and Thrace and his daughter seek his aid in defeating a tyrannical warlord.
Lucy-A drug mule accidently swallows her cargo and finds she now has superpowers. Stan's Choice-Stan sees and reviews any film of his choice currently in theatres.
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