At first blush, I guessed that an animated movie called “Planes: Fire & Rescue” would not be my cup of tea, seeing as I am an adult with little interest in transportation vehicles or action movies.
However, given some of the wonderful films that Disney and Pixar have turned out, I held out hope. Some “kids’ movies” offer amazing stories that stick with us for years after. Who didn’t gasp at the visuals in the opening sequence of “The Lion King”? Who didn’t cry at “Toy Story 3”? And even if it didn’t live up to those high standards, perhaps it might nonetheless be something worth showing our kids.
Unfortunately, my hopes for “Planes: Fire & Rescue” were utterly in vain. Unlike the animated films we’ve come to hold dear, or even those we placidly tolerate, this movie will be very hard to sit through if you’re an adult – and perhaps if you’re a child, too.
Most egregiously, this sequel to “Planes” doesn’t have a real story. There’s the skeleton of one, but the plot is so paint-by-numbers predictable, and the characters so undeveloped, that it’s worse than if no story were attempted at all.
The tale begins when a confident young racing plane, Dusty Crophopper (voiced by Dane Cook), loses control and tumbles from the sky. His gearbox is damaged and cannot be replaced, meaning he won’t be able to race anymore. This leads him to volunteer to fill his community’s dire need for another fire rescue vessel – but he has to get his certification first.
The aerial firefighter training doesn’t come easily to Dusty, nor does it provide him with the glory that racing did, and his worn-down gearbox continues to give him trouble even as he learns how to extinguish fires. Meanwhile, a corrupt bureaucrat (John Michael Higgins) is diverting money from the Fire and Rescue squad, keeping them from doing their jobs.
But ultimately, Dusty manages to be brave for the right reasons. He stops a big fire, saves a few characters, and once again gets himself seriously damaged in the process.
If there’s a message or purpose to this “story,” it’s a cheap, diluted one. We get the sense that we’re supposed to learn something about what really matters in life, and how to put our priorities in the right place. There’s something there, potentially, but any wisp of meaning is somehow contradicted 10 minutes afterward.
Perhaps we’re meant to glean it from the nonsensically greedy, selfish bureaucrat Cad Skinner (subtle name, by the way)? Or perhaps it should have been clear from crisis after crisis in which Dusty endangers others with his reckless racing nature? Then again, when Dusty goes against orders and pushes past his gearbox’s limits to save others, he’s lauded and rewarded. So what exactly is the lesson? Whatever you do, stupid or not, at least do it for others, especially since you’ll get held up as a hero anyway?
To be fair, the movie features some beautiful visuals of landscapes, especially of the forests. And there also were several laugh-out-loud moments early on. There are plenty of opportunities for cute jokes highlighting the fact that this world is like the real world, poking a bit of fun at us humans. Some are quite clever, such as a bar named “Honkers” or women complaining about “pickup trucks”; some fall flat. But there were a few moments of delight.
Meanwhile, there is no meaningful character development, especially not for secondary characters. Instead, the movie is peppered with trope after trope – most of them annoying, some of them downright offensive.
There are few females in the movie, and the most prominent is, unfortunately, Lil’ Dipper (Julie Bowen). She calls herself Dusty’s “biggest fan,” and indeed her only characteristic is romantic obsession with him. She’s the only female character in the movie who is a member of a flying or fire fighting team, and she is defined by her pathetic, not-so-G-rated obsession with the (male) lead.
Dottie (Teri Hatcher) is the only admirable female character: the capable mechanic who fixes Dusty after his engine first fails. She’s tough and funny and calls Dusty on his antics. And she figures into the movie for about 4 minutes.
I get it. Sometimes, we just need something that can entertain our kids.
But please don’t spend your hard-earned money on this particular movie. Go to the library and take out “The Lion King” or “Bedknobs and Broomsticks.”
Let’s not support films that are essentially passive video games, saturated with stimulation and starved for story. “Planes: Fire & Rescue” may not have live-action violence or gore, but it certainly isn’t living up to the rich tradition of storytelling that we know is possible from Disney. It’s a moneymaking ploy, a sequel released less than a year after the original.
Our children deserve better. As do we, for that matter. No one should have to sit through this derivative, offensive movie.
The good news is, you don’t.
PLANES: FIRE & RESCUE
With the voices of: Dane Cook, Julie Bowen, Ed Harris
Director: Roberts Gannaway
Running time: 83 minutes
Rating: PG for action and some peril.
The Lowdown: With his racing days over, Dusty volunteers to help fight forest fires in this animated sequel.