By Matthew McKibben | July 18, 2014
Director: Robert Gannaway
Writers: Jeffrey Howard
Starring: Dane Cook, Ed Harris, Julie Bowen, Hal Holbrook, Curtis Armstrong, John Michael Higgins
Pixar… Straight from Walt Disney Animation Studios… Hmmm… Straight from DisneyToon Studios, the studio responsible for such direct to video hits as Brother Bear 2 and Bambi 2, comes Planes: Fire and Rescue, a movie that was better suited for the direct-to-video treatment the studio is known for, but was instead released theatrically for obviou$ reasons.
I was lukewarm on the first Planes movie. The characters were likable enough and the animation sequences were pretty solid, but the story didn’t quite pull me in. The sequel picks up where the first movie left off, with the now famous
Lightning McQueen Dusty Crophopper winning aviation races around the world with his crew of misfits. It’s on a practice run for a big upcoming race that he discovers he has a faulty thingamajigger sending him plummeting towards the ground below. It turns out that if he throttles himself too hard “into the red,” his thingamajigger will completely blow up, taking Dusty with it. In the process of crash landing, Dusty accidentally knocks over this and that, causing a massive hangar fire. The local fire engine, Mayday (Hal Holbrook), is way past his prime, and in the process of putting out the fire, does more damage to the town than the fire would have caused by itself.
A big bureaucrat comes in and decides that the town either needs a new fire chief, or it will be required to have two firefighters on staff. With his racing days on hold while they search the world for spare thingamajiggers, Dusty volunteers to travel to the forests of Northern California to train with the Fire and Rescue crew, another band of misfits. If you’re keeping count at home, that’s two movies, two separate bands of misfits. Can’t wait to see a third movie, in which Dusty teams up with a third band of misfits who battle over Ukrainian skies.
Planes: Fire and Rescue is an improvement on the original movie, if for no other reason than Ed Harris, Hal Holbrook, and Wes Studi lend their voice talents to the movie. Stacy Keach was the lone voice of gravitas in the first movie, so it’s nice to have extra vocal talent in the sequel. Ed Harris provides the voice for Blade Ranger, the strict but fair Fire and Rescue chief. As you’d expect, he’s not too keen to have a big racing star on as a new firefighting cadet, yet he ultimately gives Dusty a chance and takes it upon himself to train the new recruit. Part of this training includes making a dangerous river run, which requires Dusty to push his throttle into dangerously colored (see: RED) areas. Time after time, they practice the run, only to have the now nervous Dusty back out at the last second. Gotta stay out of the red or the thingamajigger blows up. Will Dusty eventually push things to the limit and make the maneuver? You’ll have to plop down your 7 dollars at your local theater to find out. Or you can guess. You’ll probably guess correctly.
Dane Cook does a credible job as a poor man’s Owen Wilson. He isn’t given a whole ton of stuff to do in this but he by no means gives a bad performance. At this point in his career, Ed Harris has perfected playing the domineering (yet fair) boss who’s always shouting orders to his subordinates. I half-expected him to say “failure is not an option” or at least a “Goddammit, you bitch! You never backed away from anything in your life! Now fight!” but was left wanting. Now would be a good time to mention that there’s a subplot in the movie where Blade Ranger has a secret history as a television star on a CHiPs style show (complete with Erik Estrada voice cameo!!!) and that this subplot factors into why he’s reluctant to take on Dusty Crophopper as a new recruit.
Wes Studi lends his voice to Windlifter, a Native American chopper (complete with chopper blades that resemble feathers), and I’m still debating whether or not his character was offensive or not. I’m leaning towards “meh.” My favorite voice work in the movie comes from Curtis Armstrong. He has one of those voices that just works in a movie like this. We need to get “Booger” into more movies.
There are some genuinely good animation scenes in the movie. I particularly liked the scene where the crew goes out to battle a forest fire to the sounds of AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck.” It’s a genuinely good scene and put a smile on my face. The last scene in which the crew battle a massive forest fires that threatens the lives of numerous cars, RVs, and wildlife at a mountain resort is pretty good, too. I also laughed at the segment that showed scenes from the aforementioned CHiPs knock off. That was my favorite show when I was a kid, so I’m almost genetically predisposed to enjoy anything that references CHiPs.
I’ve always been a fan of animated movies and am a person who can look past story faults and weak characters if the animation is on point, which I think sums up where I am with this movie. This movie obviously wasn’t made for me, however my kids really enjoyed it. Sure, they haven’t mentioned it once since we left the theater… and probably won’t mention it again until we stumble upon the Planes merchandise the next time we’re at Target. Here’s a review pull quote they should put on the DVD/Blu-Ray box: Smells Like Screen Spirit’s Matthew McKibben says: “But I like to think that the movie was solid enough to warrant the ticket prices we paid to see it while my son was out of school with pink eye.”