The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Planes: Fire & Rescue

Do we view children's movies with a more lenient eye once we become parents? Yes, I suppose we do. Anything our kids insist on watching that doesn't make us want to claw our own eyes out is considered a blessing. That's how I felt about Planes. The movie, which was initially made for DVD but ended up getting a theatrical release, is by no means top-tier Disney, but I enjoyed watching it with my family. (In contrast, I can't take an episode of Dora the Explorer, which is one-third the length.) Planes did well enough at the box office to warrant a sequel, subtitled Fire & Rescue. No need to be lenient on this one; it's most definitely an improvement on the original.

The hero of the story is Dusty (voiced by Dane Cook), a one-time cropduster who went on to overcome his fear of heights and become a champion racer. As the story begins, Dusty's gearbox breaks, effectively ending his racing career. With nothing else to do, he joins the Smokejumpers, a unit of emergency vehicles and aircraft devoted to fighting forest fires. Dusty is coached by a veteran rescue helicopter named Blade Ranger (Ed Harris). It takes him a while to learn how to properly time the dropping of retardant over flames, but he gets the chance to practice when catastrophe strikes. A fancy new tourist lodge has been built in the woods, and the superintendent of the place, an auto named Cad (John Michael Higgins), refuses to vacate the guests when a wildfire threatens it during the grand opening. Dusty and friends must come to the rescue.

The biggest flaw with Planes: Fire & Rescue is that it lacks the character magic that the best animated films have. Dusty is no Gru, or Shrek, or Skrat, or Wall-E. While the voice actors, especially Ed Harris, do a good job, the cars/aircraft they play generally lack the sort of defining characteristics that make the best animated heroes linger in our memories. The supporting players are the most bland. They come in and serve a function, but don't really have any color or spark. The plot is pretty simplistic as well, although given that the target audience is eight and under, that's understandable.

On the plus side, the story is much better than it was in the original. Adding the firefighting angle was a great idea. Planes: Fire & Rescue is a celebration of the men and women who, as they always say, rush into a dangerous situation when everybody else is rushing out. The forest fire scenes are very meticulously animated, with peril that is authentic looking without being too intense for young children. It's actually quite exciting to see Dusty and Blade Ranger going in to save lives. A climactic scene on a burning bridge is most thrilling of all. The first Planes dealt with racing, which we'd already seen in two Cars movies, plus Turbo. Centering the sequel around something that hasn't been done in an animated film before pays off nicely, giving it a fresh feel that keeps you generally invested.

Planes: Fire & Rescue has a great message for kids, which is that firefighters and rescue workers deserve our respect and admiration. That may be its very best quality. Again, this is not on par with Pixar or DreamWorks fare, but it is a nice, pleasant, surprisingly enjoyable movie for young children one that you won't mind watching with them or feel guilty about exposing them to.

( out of four)

Planes: Fire & Rescue is rated PG for action and some peril. The running time is 1 hour and 23 minutes.

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