Editor’s Note: The following Flick Picks was scheduled to be published last week, but was not due to production problems.
Just in time for our county to burn up from half a dozen wildfires comes Disney’s “Planes: Fire and Rescue.”
In circumstances like these, it ends up being a pretty educational film.
For anyone who remembers the first “Planes,” which I described as “kind of like ‘Cars,’ but in the air,” Dusty Crophopper (voiced by Dane Cook) overcomes his small-town cropdusting beginnings to make it big on the race circuit. In that movie, he was warned by his doctor/mechanic, Dottie (voiced by Teri Hatcher), that his gearbox could not handle the strain of racing for long.
In this sequel, that warning comes to fruition, and Dusty’s engine seizes up, causing him to almost crash. During a rough landing, he inadvertently sets the runway on fire, which highlights the flaws in the town’s emergency response system. To keep the runway from being shut down forever, Dusty must train as a firefighting plane with the wilderness firefighting crew at Piston Peak National Park.
Right away, Dusty clashes with the tough boss of the crew, Blade Ranger (voiced by Ed Harris), and gets some unwanted attention from Lil’ Dipper (voiced by Julie Bowen). But he finds a new use for his cropdusting skills, even if his training is hindered by the restrictions his worn-out gearbox puts on him. When a massive wildfire threatens the packed Piston Peak lodge and its guests, though, Dusty has to remember every bit of his training and overcome his fear to help save the day.
A year ago, when I saw Disney’s plans for this sequel, I was encouraged. The original was so-so, but I could forgive a thinly veiled rip-off as a setup for a cool new concept.
Unfortunately, Disney somehow managed to make a novel idea feel almost exactly the same as its old idea. Sure, there’s fire instead of racing, but Dusty still butts heads with a cranky older authority figure before learning valuable lessons and winning over the grump with his sparkling personality, like he did in the first movie and as Lightning McQueen did before him.
That character arc didn’t have the magic of “Cars” in the first “Planes,” and it doesn’t here, either.
Which is really frustrating, because there was so much potential for this one. First off, if kids connect with a character involved in fighting wildfires, they’re probably going to be the first ones telling their parents to be careful with campfires and fireworks, and that is something that everybody could use a little reminder of. Besides that, wilderness firefighting is an aspect of the profession that isn’t touched on very often. Most children I know already think firefighters are the coolest thing this side of superheroes, and this is a different angle than most kids shows take.
And there are a few good things about this. The ending sequence, for example, is really, really cool (and, as my two junior critics, ages 7 and 4, pointed out, pretty intense). And there’s nothing outright offensive about anything. It’s just…disappointing.
To be clear, this is not the worst movie I’ve ever seen. Not by a long shot. It just could have been so much better. And a movie literally dedicated to honoring firefighters really should have swung for the fence. This, sadly, is more like a double at best.