PlanesFireandRescuecoverGrade: B-
Entire family: Yes, but . . .
2014, 83 min., Color
Rated PG for “action and some peril”
Aspect ratio: 2.39:1 widescreen
Featured audio: English DTS-HD MA 7.1
Includes: Blu-ray, DVD, Digital HD Copy
Bonus features: C-

Here’s what I think: Disney’s Planes never got off the ground in 2013 because it was a) too close in concept to Cars, and b) not even half as complex, in terms of the world that animators created and their sight gags and background animations. It was an as-the-crow-flies narrative about an airplane named Dusty Crophopper that dreamed of racing instead of dumping pesticides on crops . . . though, of course, Disney didn’t frame it that environmentally conscious. It was all about dreaming to be more than you’re born to be, a familiar Disney theme.

In this 2014 sequel, Planes: Fire & Rescue, an opening montage weakly reminds us of Dusty’s status as a racing champion, then in short order we see him sputter and learn that his racing career is basically over. He has a bad gearbox, which, for a reason we’re not quite sure about, can’t be replaced. Not one to accept bad news, Dusty pushes himself to fly faster than the warning light that a crew member installed and ends up crash-landing and starting a fire at the airport. All of this is the run-up to the film’s basic scenario: Propwash Junction’s airport has a single aging fire and rescue unit, and Dusty’s crash made it clear that they were operating below standards. They’ll remain shut down unless they get a second unit. So Dusty, feeling guilty, offers to go to Piston Peak National Park for fire-and-rescue training.

In a way, I’m surprised that it took so long for there to be a film about forest firefighters, because I had a friend who was a smokejumper—who parachuted into fires along with bulldozing Bobcats and forklifts that were dropped in the area—and the stories he told were amazing.

In Planes: Fire & Rescue, which is dedicated to firefighters of all kinds, Disney shows just how far they’ve come by animating the most realistic forest fires I’ve ever seen, and they continue to display the same kind of prowess with their animation of water sequences. Visually, this sequel is a huge improvement over Planes, and there’s more here to learn, too—though I wish Disney would have trusted their young audience to be able to absorb more than just basic information about fighting forest fires. Young minds want to know details, and there are plenty of times where more explanation would have been welcome.

PlanesFireandRescuescreenI’m not spoiling anything when I say that of course Dusty’s racing arrogance gets in the way of his instruction and performance, because we’ve seen that before, too, in Cars. This time his mentor is a command and training helicopter named Blade Ranger (Ed Harris), and a mechanic named Maru (Curtis Armstrong) rigs him with a set of pontoons so he can skim the surface of a lake or river, pick up water, and then release it over a fire.

A sideplot involves the equivalent of a lodge developer who’s reminiscent of the mayor’s attempts in Jaws to convince patrons there’s no immediate danger, but it’s underdeveloped and only exists to put vacationing cars and planes in harm’s way when a forest fire spreads out of control. Otherwise, this is a single-trajectory narrative that follows Dusty’s arc through disappointment, training struggles and mistakes, and his eventual (and predictable) heroism. Yes, there are a couple of vans in extreme danger, but I think the ratings people went overboard giving this a PG. I mean, without some peril there’s no drama, right?

Adults and older children may think back to the richer world of Cars and wish for more complexity, but Planes: Fire & Rescue should appeal to younger children of both genders, probably up until 3rd or 4th grade. And everyone in the room will appreciate the accomplished artwork and animation. These people were on fire!