Four movies and several more short films into the world of Cars and Planes, cynical adults will continue to ask hard questions.
When a Planes: Fire & Rescue character puts an AC/DC album on a record player, does this mean that there is an airplane version of the Australian band, or is the music left over from the now extinct/annihilated human race? Who lives in the skyscrapers we see in the film? Has anyone explained how the vehicles reproduce?
Children, who don’t think about these things, are the clear target audience for Planes: Fire & Rescue, an occasionally rousing but mostly just adequate sequel to last year’s Planes. Disney has fortified its animation reputation in recent years with movies (from Frankenweenie to Frozen to the bulk of the Pixar catalog) that were clearly made by filmmakers trying to amuse themselves. These offshoots from the DisneyToon Studios have a different kid-first vibe.
It’s not a bad vibe. The sequel quickly removes spunky hero Dusty Crophopper from his established past as a racing plane, and into the visually pleasing world of aerial firefighting. The isolated forest setting seems to be 75 percent inspired by Yosemite and 20 percent by Arches National Park in Utah, with a Yellowstone Park geyser thrown in for fun.
Much is made of Dusty’s celebrity from the previous film, and the more humble/noble work of his new comrades. Although there are once again no humans (Are they underground? In a Battlestar Galactica-style spaceship looking for a new home?!?), the movie serves as a fitting tribute to smoke jumpers and other real-life forest service workers.
Planes: Fire & Rescue is at its best during the frequent aerial firefighting scenes, which have a storybook feel, while maintaining a disaster movie-style momentum. The movie is rated PG, but other than a few scenes of planes-in-peril, it will play well with all but the most scare-prone children in the G crowd.
Voices: Dane Cook, Ed Harris, Julie Bowen, Curtis Armstrong, Hal Holbrook.
Director: Roberts Gannaway.
Screenwriter: Jeffrey M. Howard.
A Walt Disney Pictures release. Running time: 84 minutes. Mild peril. Playing at: area theaters.