– Summary –
Director : Bobs Gannaway
Year Of Release : 2014
Principal Cast : Dane Cook, Stacy Keach, Brad Garrett, Danny Mann, Teri Hatcher, Julie Bowen, Ed Harris, Wed Studi, Dale Dye, Curtis Armstrong, Regina King, Fred Willard, Jerry Stiller, Erik Estrada, Hal Holbrook, Kevin Michael Richardson, Patrick Warburton, Corri English, Bryan Callen, Danny Pardo.
Approx Running Time : 83 Minutes
Synopsis: Dusty, the racing cropduster, finds himself having to adjust to being a firefighting plane, after his engine starts to fail, discontinuing his career as a racer.
What we think : Well animated, and featuring a dream cast of voices (including Pixar almum John Ratzenberger in a minor cameo), Fire & Rescue has similar problems to its progenitor. The film’s characters feel hackneyed, almost stolen from Pixar’s Cars, while the disconnect of having cars and planes anthropomorphized to such an extreme finally loses its impact. Fire & Rescue looks great, sounds great, and delivers some nice little beats and deftly hee-haw humor, but like Planes, it can’t escape the shadows of other, better films.
Nobody was really asking for a film about airplanes, set in the world of Pixar’s Cars franchise, a franchise roundly criticized as one of the studio’s lesser efforts (not to mention Cars 2). Certainly, nobody was asking for a sequel to the flat-footed Planes, a derivative, cliched kiddie-uber-friendly film that delivered some minor diversion around a generic, has-been story. And yet, here we are, a film which, in its opening card, is dedicated to the men and women who fight fires and rescue people around the world every day, and whose demographic is solely young children with no capacity to understand it. Fire & Rescue, a film nobody asked for, thrust itself into cinemas in 2014, and flamed out as quickly as it arrived. Yep, a fire pun. No doubt I’ll be avoiding more of those. So is Fire & Rescue worth the struggle of revisiting the original Planes to catch up on the story and characters? Or is this a film which should be left to wither and die, lost in the wilderness, outrunning the flames of critical derision?
Plot synopsis courtesy Wikipedia: Since winning the Wings Around the Globe race, Dusty Crophopper (Dane Cook) has a successful career as a racer. Unfortunately, his engine’s gearbox becomes damaged due to being regularly forced over its limits; with that particular model of gearbox now out of production and none available anywhere, Dusty’s mechanic Dottie (Teri Hatcher) fits a warning light to his control panel to ensure he doesn’t damage his gearbox any further. No longer able to race and faced with the possibility of returning to his old job as a crop-duster, Dusty goes on a defiant flight and tests his limits. In doing so, Dusty exceeds his limits and makes a forced landing at Propwash Junction airport, causing a fire. The residents put out the fire with some difficulty, but the accident leads government inspector Ryker to close the airport due to inadequate firefighting personnel. Aggrieved at his carelessness, Dusty offers to undergo training to be certified as a firefighter to meet the necessary regulations to reopen the airport. To that end, Dusty travels to Piston Peak National Park where he meets a fire and rescue crew under the command of a helicopter named Blade Ranger (Ed Harris). The leader of an efficient unit, Blade is initially unimpressed by the small newcomer and Dusty’s training proves to be a difficult challenge.
Planes: Fire & Rescue thinks it’s cleverer than it really is. The spin-off to the Cars franchise, Planes took us to the skies in one of the most underdeveloped, cliche-riddled messes of a big-budget animated film, a film suitable for the youngest kids of the family and that’s about it. This film, the sequel (of a planned trilogy, if you can believe it – Cars never made it past film 2!) to Planes, downshifts a few gears to reprise the star role of Dusty, voiced by Dane Cook, the Lightning McQueen of the skies (literally, really) in a new venture – fighting fires and stuff. As an extension of the first film, Fire & Rescue feels more organic in the way it approaches its narrative, giving Dusty another hurdle to overcome (one he can’t really, forcing the series to commit to its change of direction, something many animated films are afraid to do), and in this sense this film is an improvement over Planes. Yet for it’s slightly more nuanced plot, Fire & Rescue is still hindered by generic, toy-clone characters and derivative, K-Mart-promotion-and-happy-meal-selling visual motifs.
Where the first film had Dusty striving to prove himself above his station, Fire & Rescue has him proving himself when he has to reduce his station (or perception of reduction – I’m not trying to impugn the nobility of firefighting), and this step is key to the film’s success. It’s probably a tad ambitious to use this kind of “mid-life crisis” twist to sell a film to kids, especially since the majority of this film’s audience will be under about six years old, but at least you can’t fault the writers for trying to broaden the scope and scale of this follow-up. Getting in the propellers of this film’s quality story is a reliance on gum-searing, teeth-clenching, eye-rolling jokes and gags, most of which will fall flatter than Kanye West’s proclamations of Godhood; some of the humor in Fire & Rescue is too juvenile to really work within the themes of the film, and as much as I love good comic-relief and slapstick as much as the next person, the lack of sharp, razor-wire laughs (replaced by nudge-nudge guffaws) merely papers over the mediocrity with more mediocrity.
Fire & Rescue can’t escape the same weird disconnect as Cars, Cars 2, or Planes. The anthropomorphic vehicles seem to exist in a world built by human hands, but now, in a weird Planet Of The Apes way, where humans no longer exist. The film once again sets itself in that Cars world, with humanoid-slash-machine cross-pollination of ideas and mechanics that jar more than it works. I never really brought into the idea of Cars, and Planes struggles to fit into the same world for much the same reason. Admittedly, the animation and design on this film is superb, a dazzling palette of colour, movement, action and effects; the flying sequences are exhilarating, the fire fighting elements actually border on exciting, and the design of the film’s locales and ancillary characters is as rich and textured as any Pixar film might employ (the Planes franchise is made under the Disneytoon banner, not within Pixar’s purview), yet it’s an empty experience emotionally.
The voice cast, once again led by Dane Cook as Dusty, is really good, although many of the big names are working with fairly inane dialogue or character development. Animation quality is up to the challenge of accommodating the really nice voice work, but the story’s wobbly foundation once again undermines all the good work by everyone else. Dammit, not even John Lasseter’s inclusion in the story team here seems to have worked like it should. Cook’s Dusty seems relegated to more of an ensemble player in this effort, as the plethora of characters vie for time on the screen, something which dilutes much of Dusty’s emotional journey beneath the filmmakers having to shoehorn in so many sub-plots and sidebars. Ed Harris as the garrulous Blade Ranger, is as deep a character as my cat’s water bowl – ie not very – even though Harris’s commanding presence elevates his miniscule role. Wes Studi and Dale Dye, both legends of Hollywood action films, deserved more, while Julie Bowen seems a little lost as Lil’ Dipper, and John Michael Stevens, as resident villain, Cad Spinner, is appropriately nasty (although not to the point of scaring the littlies).
Planes: Fire & Rescue is a pretty, energetic animated enterprise that scoops the pool for keeping the kidlets entertained, as long as those kidlets are under five years old, have absolutely nothing else to do, and can understand the nuances of air flight, fire fighting, and wisecracking American humor. Adults will zone out, teenagers will avoid it (and should, lest they be given another reason to avoid family dinner time), and toy marketers will probably masturbate to it. It’s a toy designer’s dream, this film, but it’s a dream met with an average story, weak characters, and a tendency to dumb itself down more than kids require. It looks amazing, sure, and the voice work and sound design will have you ducking for cover with the planes flying overhead, but Fire & Rescue is only marginally better than its predecessor, and that’s not saying a lot.