'Planes: Fire & Rescue' review: Disney film lacks heart

Rating

2.5 Stars2.5/5

Bruce Kirkland, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:35 AM ET

Three-year-old boys — and I am thinking specifically of my machine-minded, action-oriented grandson, Cameron Bell — might love the mechanical stuff they will see in Planes: Fire & Rescue. Parents, however, will probably cringe. Sitting through another instalment in this Disney animation franchise is going to be painful.

Like Klay Hall’s original Planes in 2013, this sequel from director Roberts (Bobs) Gannaway is all about anthropomorphic vehicles, both aerial and earth-bound. Fire & Rescue is an extravaganza of talking airplanes, cars, trucks, trains, forklifts and other conveyances. While there are a few jokes that might appeal to adults, 99% of the story is a basic and crude cartoon thriller aimed at younger boys. Cynically, the movie also seems designed to sell more Planes toys and collectibles to those same kids.

But credit where credit is due. Like the original Planes, Fire & Rescue does have one thrilling action sequence that is well animated. In Planes, it was the oceanic storm that the heroic racer Dusty Crophopper (voiced by Dane Cook) endured. In Fire & Rescue, it is the mountain forest fire that Dusty deals with, alongside the Smokejumpers, an equally heroic team of water bombers, helicopters and bulldozers. The movie, which was well researched in terms of presenting reality, is dedicated to American firefighters who risk their lives in wilderness areas.

Aside from these big action sequences, Fire & Rescue is superficial. Beyond the firefighting, the animation lacks the kind of painstaking detail and storytelling prowess that made the Disney classics what they are, which is timeless.

Even though they were inspired by John Lasseter’s Cars, both Planes movies also look tired and sad compared to most of the work coming from Disney’s sibling, Pixar Animation Studios. It is worth noting that Lasseter is the executive producer of both Planes movies — and he co-wrote the original — so even a creative genius has bad days.

The story in Planes: Fire & Rescue revolves around a new crisis Dusty faces. He is a champion racer but he suddenly develops a mechanical problem: His gearbox breaks down under stress and a replacement cannot be found. That leads to a fire disaster at his home airport in Propwash Junction. That leads to a selfless decision: Dusty volunteers to be trained as a firefighter. But his gearbox issue might compromise the mission.

This story, written by Planes co-creator Jeffrey M. Howard and new director Gannaway, should have worked. Yet the emotional through-line seems fake, despite the best vocal efforts of the actors. Cook, returning as the voice of Dusty, does yeoman service in the lead role; newcomers include Ed Harris as the voice of Blade Ranger, the curmudgeonly copter who trains Dusty. The stellar support roster includes Hal Holbrook, Wes Studi, Teri Hatcher, Stacy Keach, Cedric the Entertainer, Jerry Stiller and his wife Anne Meara, plus Erik Estrada in an amusing cameo referencing his ’70s series CHiPs.

But something is seriously wrong, besides the lacklustre animation. The movie lacks heart and conviction. Fire & Rescue needed some rescue efforts of its own before it made it to the movie screen.

Twitter: @Bruce_Kirkland

bruce.kirkland@sunmedia.ca


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