|A scene from Planes: Fire & Rescue.|
By John Esther
Before the opening credits roll in director Bobs Gannaway's Planes: Fire & Rescue, Disney dedicates the movie "To the courageous firefighters throughout the world who risk their lives to save the lives of others." It is a nice, well deserved gesture and it tells you immediately where the heart of this film beats.
The follow up to last year's Planes, this animated feature follows the highs and lows -- literally and metaphorically -- of Dusty Crophopper (voice by Dane Cook), a plane who is about to fly into the winds of change.
Having just won another aerial race, Dusty is out training for an upcoming local race when his health comes crashing down. Told that he can never race again, Dusty goes out at night and pushes himself to the point of collapse, not only causing more harm to himself, but damage to his community at large. (Was he drunk on oil?)
In order to redeem himself and save his community, Dusty must get certified as an aerial firefighter.
Up until this point, audiences may wonder where in the world Planes: Fire & Rescue is taking place. There are no humans in the story. Only cars, trucks, trains, planes, and other vehicles (basically Disney merchandise to be purchased) living in a world free of smog, pollution or oil spills. And these vehicles, except one mentioned in a side-of-the-mouth quip, seem to run on gas. Of course, they do speak American English.
This otherworldly notion is dispersed when Dusty heads across the land to Yosemite, Earth. It is here Dusty will train under the tutelage of Blade (voice by Ed Harris) and with the help of friendly co-firefighters, including a forward-thinking female, Lil' Dipper (voice by Julie Bowen), who, along with Blade, Windlifter (voice by West Studi), are the most entertaining character in Planes: Fire & Rescue.
No sooner has Dusty arrived a fire alarm is set off, sending the firefighting crew deep into the forest. Immediately the team sets out with brilliant precision: planes swoop in, pick up water and drop it on the fire, while utility vehicles descend in parachutes to the ground where they will do their work with the precision of machines, but with the personalities of toys similar to the ones given to them by imaginative children. It is a heroic coordination with no time to lose.
To get, or amp, adults in this firefighting scene, the filmmakers set it to AC/DC's "Thunderstruck." As rocking and rolling as "Thunderstruck" may be, lyrically speaking, "Thunderstruck" has just about much correlation to the action taking place in the movie as Kajagoogoo's "Too Shy," Gang of Four's "Better him than Me" or Beyonce Knowles' "Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)." If someone asked me, Kansas' "Fighting Fire with Fire," Ultravox's "One Small Day" or Muse's "Knights of Cydonia" would have been more germane, but nobody asked. Actually, Leftfield's "Open Up" comes to mind when considering such pedestrian pandering. Anyway, it is an emotionally charged, intellectually lethargic musical choice. Unfortunately, it is the best song you will hear in Planes: Fire & Rescue. Plus, Mark Mancina's score is worse than the individual songs.
During his initial entry into firefighting it becomes clear Dusty has a lot to learn and to explain to the real firefighters. His ego and his poor health are both a detriment and a danger to himself and the team. Yet he is too arrogant to defer to his betters. Naturally, I mean formulaically, the protagonist will have to jump through hoops of fire before he can become a hero.
Not only do the government-run, taxpayer-supporting firefighters have the burden of training Dusty, they now have a bigger problem with Cad Spinner (voice by John Michael Higgens), a park superintendent acting more like real estate developer than a ranger. Driven by ambition, Cad diverts firefighter funds to his new restoration project. The Grand Fusel Lodge is about to open and the ambitious, avarice and authoritarian Cad wants to impress the visiting Secretary of the Interior (voice by Fred Willard). And if the forest burns before his retreat, that is just the cost of doing business.
Now, it does not take a Maru (voice by Curtis Armstrong), to figure out and fix the conclusion of the movie. Co-screenwriters Gannaway and Jeffrey M. Howard are not going to tail and spin this elementary narrative into a tragedy.
Nonetheless, for a film geared toward smaller children -- the MPAA gave the film a PG rating for "Action and Some Peril" -- Planes: Fire & Rescue is rather intense for younger viewers. Some of the action is fast and there are several scenes where the smoke lingers on, not knowing if our products, I mean protagonists, of the movie, have survived. As one young kid said aloud at the all-Media screening, "What happened? I don't like this movie"; perhaps expressing the sentiments of others. There was adult laughter in response.
Since Disney insists on trying to please both children and parents in these family-friendly ventures, there are obviously some jokes, not the token flatulence ones of course, that will mean nothing to the kids. Lil' Dipper's high-jinks are for those whose hormones have already kicked in. The hybrid car joke about "never heard it coming" will be a "zoom" for the typical kid. And the "CHoPs" metanarrative in the movie, a pastiche of the TV series, CHiPs -- both featuring Erik Estrada -- puzzled the many a kinder eyes and ears during the aforementioned screening.
This is not to suggest that storytelling for different audience ages (or, at least maturity) is a bad thing. Family members may leave the theater talking to other family members about what he or she took from the movie, which may offer different perspectives on the same text. (Yes, it is extremely doubtful Disney has such intellectual intentions. So called "family films" are geared toward the maximum possible ticket buyers.)
However, there is one thing everyone should be able to take from the film: firefighters do some very important and dangerous work. Even though the characters in Planes: Fire & Rescue are made of metal, that is clear at the movie's most elementary level.
Planes: Fire & Rescue is available in 3D.