‘Planes’ Sequel Upgrades to Neutral Skies
Disney must have seen something in their Planes franchise to warrant two theatrical films back-to-back. Last year’s Planes was perfect fodder for Disney’s direct-to-DVD lineup. All that film had going for it was its ability to sell toys similar to its Cars brand.
Planes: Fire & Rescue revs up its plot, recapping the events of the previous film. Dusty Crophopper (voiced by Dane Cook) returns home a superstar after his “Wings Around the Globe” victory in Planes. It’s a short-lived celebration when his gear box is permanently damaged forcing him into early retirement. Other options arise for Dusty when his town is short a second firefighter.
To be perfectly honest, Planes can be stricken from the books. Planes: Fire & Rescue is Disney’s do-over for the franchise, hinging little on the first film. The film makes references to the original. But for anyone with no interest in the first film, Fire & Rescue is a modest place to start.
Fire & Rescue, however still emerges as a half-baked direct-to-DVD movie like the first one. But in one year, there has been much improvement. Gone is the overdone underdog story from Planes. Dusty swaps out his racing hat for his firefighting hat. Arriving at Piston Peak National Park, Dusty is immediately thrown into firefighting basic training. There he meets a fresh new crew of rescue vehicles voiced by Ed Harris, Julie Bowen, Wes Studi and Curtis Armstrong.
It’s easy to cynically dismiss this new slew of characters as carefully crafted products to buy after the movie. In the long run, there are a few characters like Harris as a lead plane Blade Ranger, who have a little weight. But his role is no different from Paul Newman in the first Cars movie. Modern Family’s Bowen’s not a bad addition either voicing Dusty’s love interest Lil’ Dipper.
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Like both Cars films and Planes, Fire & Rescue is chock-full of eye-rolling puns courtesy of Jeffrey M. Howard’s screenplay. For example, there’s a pick-up truck with an expertise at pick-up lines. It’s cute for the kids, though there are few that they might not get it. Fire & Rescue also dabbles in 80’s pop culture. The inclusion of AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck” is appealing to older audiences as is the CHiPs spoof with Erik Estrada lending his voice for a few moments.
The action-packed climax to Planes: Fire & Rescue treads on more frightening moments for younger audiences. It’s no Bambi or Lion King trauma that Disney is notorious for in the past. There’s still credit due here for creating a disastrous sequence to pique the interest of kids and adults.
Adding to the improvements of Planes, the visuals this time around are much better. Still not up to par of its feature-length Pixar counterparts, Fire & Rescue focuses more on color and detail to improve. The world-building is also more confined than the first, but more concentrated in a forest location. Dusty’s home Propwash Junction is unfortunately glossed over after his actions set the film in action.
Lastly, hats off to Disney for dedicating Planes: Fire and Rescue to the countless firefighters out there in its opening. That’s a complete 180 from what would have been the painfully expected glorified toy commercial.
Planes: Fire & Rescue works it way out of the first film’s nosedive. It’s surely a sequel that not many people asked for. But after seeing the brand’s improvement, a few more may be wanting a Planes 3. Disney’s slowly moving in the right direction.