Ever wonder what would happen if you crossed early 2000s kids’ shows “JJ the Jetplane” and “Rescue Heroes”? Well behold.
“Planes: Fire and Rescue” is the Disney follow up to last year’s Planes. We once again join Dusty Crophopper, who this time finds himself at “Piston’s Peak” national park, training to get his fire certification to help out a friend back home. As he learns how to put out fires he also learns what it means to sacrifice his own safety for the safety of others. A worthy message indeed, but with less than a year since the first “Planes” came out, which itself was a pretty lackluster flick, there’s no possible way they had time to make a good movie, right?
Well, maybe not. But I’ll give them this, they made a better one than the first one. There’s a couple things I really liked about Fire and Rescue. First off, the voice work in this one is much better. I mean Dane Cook, is still giving a pretty basic performance here, but the voices around him are really cast well. I especially loved Julie Bowen, who you may know as Claire from ‘Modern Family”, but is really funny here as the quirky fire plane “dipper”. It’s also great to hear voices like Stacey Keach, Fred Willard, and Ed Harris, the last of which gave some real oomph as “Blade Ranger” leading up the winged firefighting crew. Even more than that, so let’s call it the best thing, I thought the animation in this was gorgeous. Some of these landscapes were stunning and devastatingly beautiful as the fire painted them. I was actually kinda flabbergasted that in less than a year they could put together visuals that seemed this technically sound when most CG kid’s flicks are in production for 3 years or more. Of course, much of that time is used to hone the story work and that’s where Fire and Rescue starts to really fall apart.
There’s just not much to hold onto here. The storylines for the different characters are basic and banal, never really giving us much to invest in or connect to and offering more cliche than any kind of true dramatic experience. It gives structure enough for the kiddos to stick around but nothing emotionally interesting enough for their adults to stay awake for. And that’s the most frustrating part. The Planes universe really does seem at this point like an episodic kids tv show that Disney is somehow getting us to pay for at the theater. Having completely lost the heart and pursuit of excellence that has defined Pixar and Disney for so long. Plus, I have to say this one also certainly pushed the double entendre and crass humor line more than I remember other Disney films doing. Not necessarily enough that it made me uncomfortable, but enough that I thought maybe somebody had poured a little Shrek into the gas tank that was gumming up the works.
At the end of the day, Planes: Fire and Rescue is a gorgeously animated and well acted flick that isn’t as painful as the first to sit through. But a lack of emotional depth and overall quality still leave it coasting at a C+
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