Movie Review: “Planes: Fire and Rescue 3D”

Planes: Fire and Rescue


Almost a year after the first “Planes” movie was released, the folks at Disneytoon are back again with an adventure featuring Dusty Crophopper (Dane Cook), the mild-mannered crop duster-turned-racer. This time out, our story opens with Dusty sustaining critical damage to his gear box, a part long since out of production, putting him at risk of crashing when he pushes the needle into the red. His very real concern about crashing puts him in a metaphorical tailspin, leading the depressed Dusty to go on a flying bender that ends with him careening into a pylon and accidentally starting a fire.

The haphazard firefighting by Propwash Junction Airport’s sole – and well-past decrepit – fire truck, Mayday (the prolific Hal Holbrook – “Wall Street” and “Lincoln”), exposes the airport’s lack of sufficient fire safety equipment. Immediately thereafter, the authorities sweep in and pull the airport’s license to operate until there are at least two pieces of firefighting equipment onsite. Looking for meaning in his life, or at least to help out his friends, Dusty volunteers to undergo the certification required for the airport to re-open, and he flies up to scenic Piston Peak National Park, to study under the taciturn helicopter Blade Ranger (Ed Harris – “The Truman Show” and “Apollo 13”).


Dusty and Blade

Dusty Crophopper (Dane Cook) and Blade Ranger (Ed Harris) take to the skies over Piston Peak National Park


The lovely park is hugged by trees, hills, and a gulch with a raging river, and it features the stunningly renovated Fusel Lodge which is managed by the arrogant Superintendent, Cad (John Michael Higgins – “Bad Teacher” and “Pitch Perfect”). As much as Blade wants to make even minor improvements to the firefighting capabilities of his crack team, Cad is focused solely on the grand re-opening of the Lodge, gushing over the champ and ignoring the heroes. Dusty makes friends with members of Blade’s team, including the amorous Lil’ Dipper (Julie Bowen – “Ed” and “Modern Family”), the philosophical Windlifter (Wes Studi – “Last of the Mohicans” and “Avatar”), and crazy smokejumper Dynamite (Regina King – “Boyz n the Hood” and “The Boondocks”). Though Dusty learns the mechanics of fighting fires, his impulsive decisions override his training and put him on Blade’s bad side.


Superintendent Cad and Dusty

Cad (John Michael Higgins) and Dusty (Dane Cook), discussing the grand re-opening of the Fusel Lodge


When Blade suffers injuries from compensating for Dusty’s mistakes during a wildfire, Windlifter is left to direct the team as the fire spreads close enough to threaten the Lodge and all its visitors. Dusty has to put his own personal safety on the line to prove to everyone – and himself – that he has what it takes to be a true hero.

Ultimately, I found the movie to be just okay. Understanding that the first “Planes” movie was originally intended to be a direct-to-DVD movie that detoured to the theaters, this felt much like something that could have gone straight to DVD. There were no visible advances in graphics or effects, the plot was fairly predictable, and it straddled an interesting line between repetition and sophomore slump. The movie has some cute moments, and the casting is truly wonderful, but the drive to see it will be fueled primarily by Dusty-philes and merchandising.


Vehicles in danger during a fire at the park

Piston Peak in peril, the park’s firefighter, Pulaski (Patrick Warburton), looks for help from the team in the sky


The two big questions that I typically see pop up around these movies are: should I see this in 3D and is it too scary for my child? As to the question of whether to see this in 3D or 2D, I’d say that there’s no tangible benefit to seeing it in 3D. Frankly, the best use of the 3D display was in the end credits – and that’s insufficient to justify the surcharge. When it comes to the scare factor, the scenes with the fires (two of which are probably a bit scary for those under 7) are likely to be the biggest issues. Dusty and the Piston Peak team are put in harm’s way, and though the graphics aren’t hyper-realistic, I can imagine that some kids might find even those brief scenes a bit tough to take.


Piston Peak firefighting team

Some of Piston Peak’s finest, including Lil’ Dipper (Julie Bowen) – far right – and Windlifter (Wes Studi)


In the end, “Planes: Fire and Rescue” does the job it sets out to do; it continues this fork of the “Cars”-world franchise and it offers all new characters for kids to collect at their local stores. Parents can expect some amusing one-liners and great cameos, and kids get to see Dusty in action all over again. For many, that’s reason enough to head to the theater.


2 stars out of 4

“Planes: Fire and Rescue” opens nationwide starting July 18, 2014. This movie is rated PG for action and some peril.

Movie Review: “Planes 3D”



“From above the world of Cars…” is the teaser from the promos, intended to remind potential viewers that “Planes” is another view into a beloved universe created by the folks at Pixar. This teaser ends up being rather unnecessary – since everything about the movie, from the cow-tractor cameos to the underpinnings of the storyline cherry-picks liberally from the “Cars” franchise. As it happens, while the world was created by Pixar, the movie was created by DisneyToon – originally intended as a direct-to-DVD production and then shifted to a theater release.

The movie centers on Dusty Crophopper (Dane Cook of “My Best Friend’s Girl” and “Good Luck Chuck”), a crop duster with dreams of becoming a racer. Dusty wants to compete in the “Wings Around the World Rally”, an around-the-globe challenge that would pit him against the world’s fastest planes. It’s a 7-leg challenge, stretching from New York City to Iceland, Germany, India, Nepal, China, and Mexico, before finishing back at the starting line in New York. In desperate need of a real trainer, Dusty and his trusty sidekick, the gasoline tanker Chug (“Everybody Loves Raymond” actor Brad Garrett), enlist war hero Skipper (Stacy Keach, a TV/movie veteran of everything from “Mistral’s Daughter” to “The Bourne Legacy”). The cranky Skipper is highly dubious that Dusty has what it takes to win, especially when it’s revealed that Dusty is terrified of heights and will only fly less than one thousand feet off the ground.


Dusty Crophopper

Dusty Crophopper


Nevertheless, Skipper trains him – and then off goes Dusty for a Rally qualifier. He manages to hold his own but initially fails to make the cut-off; however, thanks to the aerial equivalent of doping discovered in another racer, Dusty squeaks into the qualifying group and heads off for the Rally. It’s there that he meets a suite of racers from around the world – including the refined and sarcastic Bulldog (“Monty Python” icon John Cleese), the amusing and sweet El Chupacabra (Carlos Alazraqui of “Reno 911!”), and the dastardly and arrogant Ripslinger (Roger Craig Smith of “Wreck-it Ralph” and “Marvel’s Avengers Assemble”).


Dusty and Ripslinger

Dusty and Ripslinger


Dusty squares off against a field of talented and much faster planes, trying to prove to himself – and to others – that a simple crop duster can manage to be something more. As Dusty explains while wistfully examining the Rally’s course on a world map, “I’ve flown thousands of miles and never been anywhere.” He struggles with his own limitations as much as others struggle with them, but the more he competes the more he’s able to stretch even his own idea of what he can and can’t do.

The only problem with “Planes” is that, as much as it’s a new production, there’s little about it that’s truly original. The concept of a young hotshot in need of guidance from someone more seasoned is territory well-mined in the relationship between Lightning McQueen and Doc Hudson in the first “Cars” film. Keach’s gravelly voice makes the cantankerous Skipper a gray, aerial Doc, and the green villain, Ripslinger, was very much Chick Hicks with a propeller. Even the idea of a multi-leg, around-the-world race between a mouthy, arrogant nemesis and the good guy was well-covered in “Cars 2”.


Chug and Dottie

Chug and Dottie


The only real original bits came with El Chupacabra, especially around his romantic intentions towards Rochelle, a French Canadian plane voiced by the ever-talented Julia Louis-Dreyfus (“Seinfeld” and “Veep”, among many others). The rest of the movie seemed very much a recycling of “Cars”-world motifs and storylines, sometimes with the roles reversed, but ultimately so similar that this wasn’t so much “from above the world of Cars” as it was just “from Cars”.

A cute tale with only a small amount of scary bits in it, “Planes” is a perfectly fine film for kids. The run time is just about 90 minutes, so it’s a quick enough film for viewers of all ages. Also, I saw this movie in 3D and while I’m sure it’ll be available in 2D, there’s something to be said for seeing this with the additional depth that 3D brings.

While this movie used some of the same technologies routinely employed by Pixar and even had some Pixar heavyweights in lead positions (like Executive Producer John Lasseter), this was a Disney-made movie. Clearly, the cross-over worked well from a technical execution standpoint; the renderings were nicely done, with good texture on the trees, grass and other items that have variable surfaces. The smooth surfaces of cars and airplanes tended to look too shiny and unreal – but this is how things looked in “Cars”, as well, so I’m less likely to think that a limitation of the DisneyToon team. As an approximation of a Pixar flick not from Pixar itself, this is very decent work.

For fans of “Cars” and that universe, this is a fun, brief diversion. If you’re looking for something original and breathtakingly new from Disney, this won’t really get you there…but maybe the upcoming sequel (“Planes: Fire & Rescue” – advertised at the end of the credits) will provide something new for Dusty and Co.


2 out of 4 stars


“Planes 3D” opens nationwide on August 9, 2013. This movie is rated PG (Parental Guidance suggested) for some mild action and rude humor.