Planes: Fire & Rescue

Posted by Joel Copling on July 18, 2014

"Planes" was released less than a year ago from DisneyToon Studios, a branch of the overall Disney that specializes in direct-to-video fare. It was, overall, roughly as slapdash as it was sweet-natured, a film of simple pleasures and likable characters. There was no real reason for its existence, except to build on the world created by 2006's charming "Cars" (and, later, insulted with 2011's insufferable "Cars 2") by introducing us to the sentient likes of another transporation vehicle (Seriously, "Trains" must not be far behind, and we get a glimpse of one here). It isn't a very logical universe--just Google some of the questions it raises to find a good chuckle--but now, with "Planes: Fire & Rescue," we have reason to believe that it is at least symbolic of our own.

For here we have airplanes as firefighters. It probably isn't wise to wonder how wildfires occur in this universe or what use automotive beings have for the forests and wildlife under literal fire, but nevertheless, firefighters exist in this universe as the vehicles they already are in real life, just without the element of a human pilot or counterparts. When Dusty Crophopper (voice of Dane Cook), our likable hero, suffers what amounts to an injury (His reductive gearbox is damaged) and can no longer take part in the races that have made him a household name, he doesn't have many choices. Out of respect for and duty to Propwash Junction's resident fire crew (currently a single fire truck, named Mayday and voiced by Hal Holbrook, that is ridiculously out-of-date) following an explosion that destroys one of the structures, Dusty flies off to Piston Peak National Park to become a certified firefighter alongside Mayday.

There he meets a ragtag group of current firefighters, including Lil' Dipper (voice of Julie Bowen, of whom the film has not nearly enough), who takes to Dusty as a clingy female stereotype, Windlifter (voice of Wes Studi), the resident Native American stereotype (Say what?), and the "local legend" stereotype, a former actor named Blade Ranger (voice of an unexpectedly strong Ed Harris). There are others, too, that the film refuses to develop on any sort of level, but this is probably the film's biggest flaw: the creation of stereotypical and rather lame supporting characters. They fail to crowd the film's emotional core, which is the desperation with which Dusty wants to prove himself, despite a major handicap, but it is a distraction from the film's best scenes.

Ultimately, "Planes: Fire & Rescue," which hails from director Roberts Gannaway and written by Jeffrey M. Howard (a veteran of the solid recent "Tinker Bell" franchise), features an intriguing and effective engagement in the idea that mortality is a real concern and, sometimes, inevitability in this mechanized, alternate universe. It is not merely the presence of firefighters--though that is very representative of where the film's heart lies--but that the protection of others at the risk of one's own safety is something to be commemorated (A plaque on the wall in the firefighters' campus is strictly for those who have crashed, which is enough to make one shudder). That isn't something at which to scoff, even if the film to which it belongs was built for direct-to-video consumption by seven-year-old children on road trips.

Film Information

Featuring the voices of Dane Cook (Dusty Crophopper), Ed Harris (Blade Ranger), Julie Bowen (Lil' Dipper), Curtis Armstrong (Maru), John Michael Higgins (Cad), Hal Holbrook (Mayday), Wes Studi (Windlifter), Brad Garrett (Chug), Teri Hatcher (Dottie), Stacy Keach (Skipper), Cedric the Entertainer (Leadbottom), Danny Mann (Sparky), Barry Corbin (Ol' Jammer), Regina King (Dynamite), Anne Meara (Winnie), Jerry Stiller (Harvey), Fred Willard (Secretary of the Interior), Dale Dye (Cabbie), Matt Jones (Drip), Bryan Callen (Avalanche), Danny Pardo (Blackout), Corri English (Pinecone), Kari Wahlgren (Patch), Patrick Warburton (Pulaski), Rene Auberjonois (Concierge), Kevin Michael Richardson (Ryker), Erik Estrada (Nick "Loop'n" Lopez), Steve Schirripa (Steve), Brent Musburger (Brent Mustangburger), and John Ratzenberger (Brodi).

Directed by Roberts Gannaway and written by Jeffrey M. Howard.

Rated PG (action, peril).

83 minutes.

Released on July 18, 2014.