Thursday, July 17, 2014

Movie review: Planes: Fire & Rescue flies the kiddie-friendly skies

This mid-tier effort is another pleasing, if not spectacular, foray into Disney's animated universe.

Posted By on Thu, Jul 17, 2014 at 1:59 PM

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In the right frame of mind, it's easy to watch Planes: Fire & Rescue and immediately think of related Disney resort décor or an immersive themed ride at the Magic Kingdom. And that’s not a knock on the film — rather, it’s impressive to consider how well it captures the Mouse House’s packaged appeal to quaintness, gentle humor and nostalgia.

Planes: Fire & Rescue is the sequel to last year's spinoff of Cars. The movie opens with Dusty Crophopper (voiced by Dane Cook) soaring in an aerial race to the delight of anthropomorphic vehicle spectators. During this opening sequence, Dusty's gearbox malfunctions. He later gets the bad news that if he pushes himself into the "red" again, it could mean his end. It's a reality Dusty doesn't want to face, because it means the end of his racing career.

As he accepts the news, Dusty adapts by joining the fire-fighting squad that protects Piston Peak, a kind of Yosemite National Park for sentient vehicles that not only operate under their own power, but also use trains as transportation as they arrive for a relaxing stay at the Grand Fusel Lodge. In his new role, Dusty must learn under the demanding tutelage of the helicopter Blade Ranger (Ed Harris, whose commanding voice is ideal for this role).

With its lively, colorful story, Planes: Fire & Rescue is ideal for young children — but be aware that the forest fire sequences can be intense and frightening. Some of the humor is, as you might expect, based on amusing wordplay. One sequence nods to parents’ nostalgia, with a segment that recalls the 1970s TV show CHiPs.

Speaking of nostalgia: Several promotional posters for the movie present an appealingly retro, mid-20th Century aesthetic. Planes: Fire & Rescue carries on that yesteryear look in the film itself. The flight sequences are impressively conceived and well presented by director Bobs Gannaway (a veteran of many Disney TV shows and straight-to-video releases). Other actors lending their voice talents to brighten up this effort include Wes Studi, Brad Garrett, Stacy Keach, Anne Meara, Jerry Stiller, Barry Corbin, and Teri Hatcher. Planes: Fire & Rescue isn't in the top tier of Disney animation, but its modest charms should play well with parents and their kids.

3 out of 5 stars
Rated PG. Directed by Bobs Gannaway. Starring Dane Cook, Julie Bowen, Ed Harris, John Michael Higgins, Hal Holbrook, Fred Willard and Patrick Warburton. Opens Fri., July 18.

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