PHOTO BY DISNEYTOON STUDIOS
PLANES: FIRE AND RESCUE
Where is it playing?: Movies Lompoc, Parks Plaza
What's it rated?: PG
What's it worth?: $3.00
In this sequel from a movie that was itself a Pixar spinoff, Dusty (Dane Cook) learns that his engine is damaged and his racing career is probably over, so he joins with fire and rescue helicopter Blade Ranger (Ed Harris) to battle a wildfire.
I must confess before we start that I’ve never really understood the Cars (and now Planes) films. I can get behind the magic of seeing toys and fish talk, or a parallel universe in which monsters exist and thrive on our cries and our laughter. But the idea of living vehicles has always baffled me. Do they have organs or is it all engines and empty cabs behind their cartoon eyes? Are they born or are they built, and if so, by whom? Do junkyards exist, indicating that they leave their dead outside to rust?
And then it occurs to me: It’s all just a gimmick. None of the rules of common sense apply. It’s as if planes could swim and helicopters have a Native American heritage. And in this film, they do.
We start Planes: Fire & Rescue with a racing montage showcasing the skills of the crop-dusting Cessna turned speeding superstar, Dusty Crophopper (voiced by a mild-mannered Dane Cook). He zooms past the competition in NASCAR-like ways, reminding us just how closely this series imitates the first Cars film. And when the dust settles, he’s back at home in Radiator Sprin ... I mean, Propwash Junction (don’t know how I could’ve made that misstep), getting ready for the upcoming Corn Festival. But during some routine maneuvers, something inside Dusty’s gearbox breaks.
Dusty is told his gearbox is out of date and nearly impossible to replace and that he shouldn’t race or push himself.
This part confused me a lot and furthered my bewilderment at this Cars/Planes world. Is his gearbox a metaphor for his heart? When his friends call around the country looking for a new part, are they searching for an organ transplant? Give me something, movie!
So Dusty starts to put his racing future on hold and gives firefighting a try, spurned on by a fire he accidentally starts. To train, he flies to Piston Peak (think Yosemite Valley) and seeks Blade Ranger, (voiced by Ed Harris, phoning it in). The rest of the crew is made up of a flirty and delusional plane called Super Scooper (Julie Bowen), a Native American heavy lifting helicopter named Windlifter (Wes Studi), and an all-terrain group of tractors known as the Smokejumpers (Regina King, Corri English, Bryan Callen, Danny Pardo, and Matt Jones).
What follows is a formulaic adventure as Dusty learns that being a firefighter can be heroic and rewarding if he must leave his life of racing behind.
Planes: Fire & Rescue is a fine movie if you’ve never seen a cartoon before and are looking for an introduction: Toddlers, I’m looking at you. But the story, the visuals, and most of the gags we’ve all seen before. In fact, rent Cars. You’ll get about the same great message with better animation and slightly better laughs.
However, if you insist on seeing it because you can’t get enough of this gimmick, you can look forward to the two minutes I was surprised and entertained by a CHiPs satire called CHoPs. I guess even I can find a knockoff fun once and awhile. (83 min.)
—Chris Daly; New Times contributor