Way back in the 1970’s, I was one of many kids who wanted to be a firefighter thanks to Emergency, an hour-long drama about Los Angeles County Fire Dept. Station 51 that aired on NBC from 1972 to 1977. Lots of kids are fascinated by firefighters and firefighting equipment, of course, but if something will inspire those dreams in kids today, it may well be Planes: Fire and Rescue, meaning kids will grow up wanting to be Dusty Crophopper and Blade Ranger instead of Randolph Mantooth and Kevin Tighe.
I’m pretty OK with that.
A spinoff from Pixar’s Cars movies, Planes: Fire and Rescue is the second movie in the Planes series, made by DisneyToon Studios. The two films were originally intended as direct-to-video features but given theatrical releases instead. Critically, I find I don’t have much more to say about the movie than I did when I reviewed the theatrical release: even if the movie feels very much like a rehash of the first Planes movie (where I also break from general critical opinion in liking the movie), the raised stakes of being an aerial firefighter vs. an air racer makes Dusty’s challenges and triumphs much more substantial. I also find I enjoy everything else about the movie to drown out whatever critical gripes I may have about it.
Disney Movies Anywhere released an extended clip from the movie, which also happens to be one of my favorite scenes from the film, introducing Dusty to the crew at Piston Peak Air Attack:
Some things that annoy me about the movie are visible here. I’m not fond of making Dipper so desperate for a date, since it defines the movie’s only major female character by her crush on a man. I’m also still torn whether the Native American influences on Windlifter are just more Hollywood stereotypes or if they’re deliberately toying with those well-worn tropes. The little eagle caw in the background after Windlifter’s little speech makes me suspect the latter. His inclusion may also be a vague reference to the fact that many Native American populations send their young men to be smokejumpers in real life. I like Ed Harris as Blade Ranger, but honestly it’s a role he could play in his sleep. Everyone is a pretty thin cardboard cutout, defined by one or two extremely strong personality traits and not many characters get much more depth.
However, the clip above also showcases many reasons why I enjoy the movie as much as I do, largely boiling down to the movie’s verisimilitude. As with all Disney and Pixar animated features, Planes: Fire and Rescue draws heavily on research trips, several of which strongly shape the plot of the movie. The sudden call to action and Dipper’s line about how “it happens all the time; you guys only hear about the big ones” was lifted straight from real events during a research trip to Hemet-Ryan Air Attack, as was the revelation later in the film that nearly every aircraft used for firefighting is repurposed from some other job. But I find the clip presents the most self-evident reason why I enjoy the movie: it’s a genuinely exciting scene that’s extraordinarily well-executed and animated. There’s the overt introduction to the oddball crew at Piston Peak Air Attack that’s interrupted by the fire alert, which serves as their second introduction showcasing them as consummate professionals. They go from goofing off to perfectly measured action like a switch was thrown. The smokejumpers show off their professionalism as they park bumper-to-bumper with inches to spare, and team leader Dynamite rolls on as Cabbie begins his taxi for takeoff, with Cabbie lifting up his ramp while she’s still moving. Once they’re on station, they move like a well-oiled machine that’s choreographed perfectly to AC/DC. There’s about three more scenes that are just like this one in the movie, which ensures that the plot is lean enough to get us to them smoothly and quickly.
The Blu-ray of Planes: Fire and Rescue is beautiful, as one would expect from new CGI feature animation in this day and age. It’s a full 1080p video image with an extremely effective 7.1 DTS-HD soundtrack that captures every thump, boom, and crackle of the major conflagrations that threaten to consume the screen several times in the film. The Blu-ray also includes a small but solid slate of bonus features, led by the new Planes short film “Vitaminamulch: Air Spectactular” which may be entirely juvenile slapstick, but it’s good entirely juvenile slapstick. There is also a brief but interesting featurette on the real-life Air Attack and Smokejumper teams that do this work that will also grab the attention of many kids in the home video audience. Two other promotional shorts are included, one of which spotlighting Dipper setting up (groan) a profile on an online dating site, and the other of which centers on the smokejumpers (and which was released online in the run-up to the release of the film in theaters). The other bonuses are rather lightweight, including disappointing promotional videos for Piston Peak Park and the CHoPs TV show that figures prominently in the plot; two deleted scenes in animatic form which are so trivial they could have been left off; and a music video for Spencer Lee’s “Still I Fly” that doesn’t manage to do better than the sequence in the movie that uses the same song. Also packaged with the Blu-ray is a DVD copy of the movie (which includes the new “Vitaminamulch” short and the “Still I Fly” music video) and a code to get a digital copy of the movie via the Disney Movies Anywhere app.
The earliest plans for Planes called for four direct-to-video films, but both features didn’t dominate the box office in their theatrical releases and the absence of any concrete titles or release dates for subsequent films makes me think the Planes franchise is dead in the water. While I’ve enjoyed both films, I’m also not quite sure I’m all that disappointed if my guess is true. Planes: Fire and Rescue is a fine, enjoyable film, but I’m not really sure where else they can take Planes that won’t quickly descend into the repetitive or the ridiculous. Even if this is the end of the franchise, though, Planes: Fire and Rescue is a pretty high note to go out on.