"Planes: Fire and Rescue," which opens in theaters this weekend, helps resuscitate the "Cars"-inspired franchise of animated movies that started last year with "Planes."
The biggest difference is that the sequel has an original story line. Unlike "Planes," the movie does not position its lead character, Dusty Crophopper (voiced by Dane Cook), to again rehash the popular racing saga of Lightning McQueen. When my family saw that movie last year, most of us agreed it felt tired and predictable -- obviously, with good reason.
That's not to say that "Fire and Rescue" isn't predictable, especially for older children and adults. It's easy to see the Disney formula at work, with the lead character facing a dilemma, then a life-threatening challenge, and finally a triumphant resolution. But this time, the journey keeps our interest a little better because we don't know how it all will play out.
In "Fire and Rescue," Dusty returns to the screen as a world racing champion, but he soon learns that his well-worn gear box is a liability for future competitions and he must find a new way to use his superior flight skills. Coincidentally, at the same time, his home airport is in need of another rescue vehicle. Without a new emergency plane on staff, the airport will be forced to close. To get certified, Dusty must train with an elite fleet of fire and rescue vehicles that are protecting national park forests from raging wildfires.
In creating this movie, Disney artists observed real aerial firefighting aircraft and smokejumpers. In fact, this version of Dusty Crophopper is based on a real-life pilot and his plane, which are stationed in the Payette National Forest in Idaho. Pilot Jesse Weaver and his Air Tractor AT-802F "Fire Boss" use 500 to 800 gallons of water or fire retardant to snuff out fires.
"The Fire Boss aircraft are the ones getting the toughest jobs, because we can do them successfully and safely. We often work in steep mountainous terrain. I'll be called to do all sorts of things, because my floats create drag that helps me go slow downhill, without building up too much speed," Weaver said in a press release.
"I definitely work closely with the guys on the ground. I'll lay down a line of fire retardant and they will support that line with their hand crews, [fire] engines or whatever they have on scene."
And seeing the true-to-life depictions of those serious and life-threatening situations keeps this movie interesting. It's not the typical setting for an animated movie, and viewing the West Coast forests from the sky is exciting, especially in 3D. Those who are familiar with the Wilderness Lodge at Walt Disney World will chuckle when they see Fusa Lodge, which looks remarkably similar to the real-life hotel here in Orlando. Even the entry to the Piston Peak National Park looks like the entrance to the Fort Wilderness Resort and Campground.
Still, the target audience for "Planes: Fire and Rescue" is young children. As such, the bathroom humor, easy jokes and bad puns hit their mark. The kids who were in the theater at our screening were laughing out loud. Parents joined them when the background of gruff veteran fire-and-rescue helicopter Blade Ranger (voiced by Ed Harris) is revealed. Apparently, he was one of the co-stars of "CHoPs." Cue the music and references to '70s hit television show "CHiPs."
Although "Fire and Rescue" is an improvement over the original movie, I still think both animated shows are more suited to a direct-to-DVD release. But if parents and caregivers are willing to lower their expectations from the high bar recently set by the Disney big-screen hit, "Frozen," they may find "Fire and Rescue" to be a good break from the summer heat.
DISCLAIMER: I viewed "Planes: Fire and Rescue" at a media screening before its official release. This did not affect my review; my opinions are my own.
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