As of the end of 2013’s Planes, Dusty Crophopper (voiced by Dane Cook) is the world air racing champ who’s currently on top of the world (sometimes literally). But when a fault is discovered in his engine’s gearbox, his racing career comes to a screeching halt. But before he’s given time to process this loss, he’s volunteered to train as a firefighter to help his local airstrip retain its license.
So before you know it, Dusty the racer becomes Dusty the trainee firefighter.
Take a look at the trailer:
On a surface level, we kind of resent what the Planes movies stand for.
The first film, which came out last year, billed itself as ‘from above the world of Cars’. It was a very pointed spin-off of the Cars movies, which remain Pixar’s least inspired movies by a wide margin. The very fact that Cars has become Pixar’s most expanded franchise doesn’t really point to its quality, as much as it does its potential for licensing toys, t-shirts and lunchboxes.
The first Planes followed Dusty as he pursued his dreams of becoming a racing champion with the help of some wacky friends. It wasn’t really different enough from Cars, which was about another vehicle who manages to win a championship with the help of some wacky friends.
But with this sequel, Disney have done an interesting thing of exploring a new corner of this world: one that doesn’t entirely revolve around racing. Once the script finally gets Dusty into fire training school (led by Ed Harris’ veteran helicopter), we’re treated to what seems like some thoroughly researched fire-and-rescue sequences. We get to see the real life strategies employed by wilderness fire-fighter and even as adults, we were surprised to learn something from this movie.
The writers also show the right amount of reverence for real-life firefighters – the planes and helicopters that Dusty meets in this world are all competent professionals. Professionalism and competency are not qualities you normally find in cartoon choppers, but you can sense a real affection for the real-world heroes who inspired these characters.
But realistically speaking, this is only a movie you’d consider seeing if you had kids with you, so let’s look at it from that perspective.
There are a lot of flying scenes that are handled very nicely: they’re exciting without being too perilous for the little ones. Unlike the best movies from Pixar, the humour doesn’t quite work for adults, but will probably tickle a younger audience. We attended a screening at London’s Leicester Square, packed with hundred of families. The kids ranges anywhere from 5 to 15. While the kids seemed quite riveted by the action sequences, some of the younger ones became audibly restless during the quieter, character-driven scenes.
As a sequel of a spin-off, there was never any real need for Planes: Fire and Rescue to be that good. However, a lot of care has been poured into its production and it’s certainly a lot more than just a cynical cash-in. On top of that, the idea that Dusty has to readjust his dream in the face of a career-ending injury is an interesting theme for a kids’ movie.
This is not an all-ages movie the way Pixar films are. But if you want to take the kids to watch a movie this summer, don’t be afraid to say ‘yes’ to this one. It’s actually a lot better than it has any right to be.