TMN Movie Review: "Planes: Fire & Rescue"

Photo Credit: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Rating: PG
Length: 83 minutes
Release Date: July 18, 2014
Directed by: Roberts Gannaway
Genre: Animation / Adventure / Comedy

Changing jobs is a very big deal because it takes people out of their comfort zones. Changing careers is also stressful, but most people have education and training in their new career fields before they make such big switches. It is pretty rare for someone to switch job fields with no prior experience, especially when the new position requires a great degree of bravery. Such is the case with Dusty (Dane Cook) in "Planes: Fire & Rescue."

In "Planes," Dusty is a crop dusting plane afraid of heights. He eventually overcomes this fear to win an around-the-world race, the beginning of his racing career. In this sequel, he suffers a debilitating injury to his engine that still allows him to fly just not at the breakneck speed needed to be a competitive racer. He decides to do something heroic with his life instead and signs up to be a part of a fire-and-rescue squad that helps put out forest fires. The crew of brave plane fighters includes spunky Lil' Dipper (Julie Bowen), leader Blade Ranger (Ed Harris) and Windlifter (Wes Studi) among others. Together they form the Piston Peak Air Attack Team, which protects the scenic Piston Peak National Park.

Piston Peak is full of tourists, and there are many accommodations and attractions to keep them well entertained, including a large lodge full or rooms for families to stay overnight. One day, a wildfire breaks out that threatens the lodge and the lives of everyone in it. The owner of the lodge tries to play off the fire as a non-emergency, and the guests unwittingly stay, putting them in grave danger. It is up to Dusty and the rest of the Air Attack Team to come to their rescue and stop the fire. At one point, Dusty is called upon to use his breakneck speed to finish putting out the fire. Unfortunately, if he performs this task, he risks further damage to his fragile engine, which could result in being grounded for good. Dusty has to make a quick decision that could change the course of his entire life.

This is a Disney movie, so there should be little doubt about how the story of the heroic crop duster ends. Still, the scenes leading up to the resolution of the plot are exciting, due in large part to how it all looks. The animation team for "Planes: Fire & Rescue" has done an outstanding job making Piston Peak look like a real and viable national park. It also put a great deal of work making the fires look real and threatening instead of cartoonish, a flaw in so many animated films. The improvement in animation technology, even in just the few years since the last "Planes" was released, is used effectively. For viewers who choose to see the film in 3D format, the fires look even more raging and really feel like they pose a serious threat.

Part of the reason that everything looks so realistic is that the producers of the film spent nearly a year researching fire-and-rescue teams and looking into their history. They partnered with the state of California and their squads, given they fight many wildfires each year. They even kept in close contact with park officials at Yellowstone and other national parks to be sure every detail was as accurate as possible. This painstaking attention more than pays off, and the result is a film that is visually stunning. There almost doesn't need to be a plot, although the story is a good one. It’s a tale of bravery and doing what is right that isn't preachy and is fairly funny in several scenes.

Before the original "Planes" came out in 2013, it was announced as a trilogy, though the third entry into this new franchise has yet to be announced. It is likely that Disney is waiting to see what the box office returns are for the sequel. Fans of the series should not fret though, as the studio seems to have a lot of confidence in the series based on the fact that they gave the first two films major theatrical releases. Originally, the trilogy was meant to be a direct-to-video feature, but executives loved the first finished scenes they saw so much that they decided to put it in theaters. This was a good call because the sheer scope of "Planes: Fire & Rescue" requires it to be seen on a large screen, where parents and children alike are sure to marvel at the visual spectacle.