If you’ve visited a preschool, public park, or Disney Theme Park in the past 6 months, you may have noticed kids dressed in clothes featuring an orange crop dusting plane. These same kids who would have been dressed in Lightning McQueen attire last summer have traded Radiator Springs’ favorite race car for Prop Wash Junction’s underdog hero, Dusty Crophopper. This paradigm shift is thanks to the creative teams at Disney Toon Studios and Disney Consumer Products, who launched a new franchise set within the “World of Cars” last August when they released Planes. That film was about a crop duster (Dusty) with big dreams or racing around the world. It felt similar in tone to Disney Pixar’s Cars and most adults were surprised to find that it wasn’t bad.
‘Planes: Fire & Rescue’ Review
Before Planes had even opened in theaters, Disney announced that a sequel was on its way and teased a clip at the 2013 D23 Expo of Planes: Fire & Rescue. The creative team was inspired to make this film after discovering that crop dusters were among the first fire fighting planes back in 1955 (Why does that year sound so important to me?…). Director Robert Gannaway wanted to take the series away from predictable races and has set Dusty in the middle of a death defying rescue mission. As a bit of Disney trivia, Gannaway’s other directorial effort for Disney Toon Studios was Secret of the Wings, my favorite of the Disney Fairies franchise.
In the film, Propwash Junction has been put on the map thanks to Dusty’s newly acquired fame and is getting ready to host a corn festival that is going to draw big crowds. Dusty is expected to race, but during a routine flight he has a complication with his gear box, which turns out to be an extremely rare part that can’t be tracked down. When Propwash Junction is shut down due to not having enough fire fighters to operate their airport, Dusty volunteers to go to Piston Peak to train to be a firefighter. In the middle of Dusty’s training, Piston Peak experiences one of the worst fires in its history. Dusty will have to learn what it means to be a truly selfless hero to finish his training.
My biggest concern going into Planes: Fire & Rescue was that it would suffer the same issues that plagued Cars 2, where all of the things that made the first film charming were absent due to the change in location. I didn’t experience the same issues here, mostly because I found the side characters in the first Planes to be mostly unmemorable and one-dimensional. Changing the scene for Dusty actually allows for a better cast of new characters and a more interesting story. I loved the locale of Piston Peak, with it’s national park surroundings and fun new characters. Ed Harris voices the leader, Blade Ranger, a firefighting helicopter with a hilarious back story that parents will appreciate. His Modern Family cast mate Julie Bowen voices Lil’ Dipper, a plane whose delusional love for Dusty is both insane and cute at the same time.
The climax of the film is a bit intense and is the main reason for the PG rating (that and numerous fart jokes), which surprised me given that the target demographic for both the film and merchandise is pre-school and elementary aged children. While I believe the content of the film is more important than the rating, this is a potentially bold move for Disney with a franchise that has such a young target audience. Maleficent also had a PG rating, but was much darker and less accessible to younger audiences asPlanes: Fire & Rescue.
The bottom line for Planes: Fire & Rescue is that kids are destined to love it, parents won’t hate it, and Disney fans may feel a little less lukewarm to the franchise after seeing it. Dusty becomes a lot more likable in this film with his health issue that prevents him from racing. This film is dedicated to firemen around the world and made me feel patriotic in the end. Disney has yet to make an announcement about future Planes films, but I think it’s safe to say this won’t be the last. Or at least this won’t be the last film “From the world of Cars.” Planes: Fire & Rescue opens July 18th and is Disney’s only animated release this summer.
I give Planes: Fire & Rescue 3.5 out of 5 Smokejumpers.