Review: Planes – Fire & Rescue (Gannaway, 2014)

Still from the movie Planes: Fire & Rescue

Planes: Fire & Rescue, a Disney animation that seems to be an offshoot from its Pixar studio Cars franchise, is the first non film festival movie I’ve seen in the theater in recent memory. Why Planes? Well, why not? But, in all seriousness, I went with a friend and her six-year-old son. The afternoon matinee was 3/5 empty with the audience comprised, unsurprisingly, of young children and their caretakers.

Unlike Pixar films, which typically take two years to make and are so carefully written and created that they stand as works of art appealing to both children and adults alike, Planes is your run-of-the-mill children’s movie with only a few token jokes inserted here and there, a bone thrown to us grown-up chaperones. The film opens with a crowd-pleasing dedication to the brave men and women firefighters of our nation, and from there on serves very much as a prolonged and mildly engaging commercial for that community, pitting sensible, down-to-earth types against arrogant, high-falutin’, out-of-touch, city-dwelling villain(s) whose self-importance clouds their judgment, sometimes with dire consequences. But, no worries, this being a Disney movie, not a single being is injured, not even a John Deere grazing in the forest (sorry, I just ruined the best joke of the movie).

The plot follows a familiar arc, beginning with Dusty Crophopper (voice by Dane Cook), a former crop dusting plane turned unlikely racer, who, due to injury (i.e. mechanical failure) and accident, makes a second emergency career change to firefighter. With an introduction from his town’s fire engine Mayday (Hal Holbrook), Dusty flies to the fictional Piston Peak National Park (evocative of Yosemite, with a touch of Yellowstone thrown in) where he undergoes training under former TV star Blade Ranger (Ed Harris), a helicopter who now directs Piston Peak’s firefighting team. There is the typically colorful supporting cast, whose countrified ways are a humorous play on rural stereotypes but are nonetheless a pale echo of the characters in Cars. There are other touches reminiscent of Cars, including an idyllic scene of vehicle-shaped insects (or birds? I can’t remember which) buzzing or nesting or somesuch, but without Pixar’s ingenuity and pleasure in detail.

Still, the film satisfies in one dimension: it fulfills every expectation you could have of it. If you are sensitive to gauche sentiment, your heartstrings will get pulled, and you may even find yourself, to your horror, blinking away a cheap tear or two. There is some pleasure in this.

As for the child’s reaction? With my friend between us, I couldn’t hear her son’s feedback during the movie, but afterwards, when asked if he liked it, he nodded emphatically. In other words, a Disney success.