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Planes: Fire & Rescue (2014)

Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment
Blu-ray Disc Released: 11/4/2014

All Ratings out of




Review by Mike Long, Posted on 11/6/2014

You don't have to be a movie expert to know that Hollywood sits at an odd crossroads of art and commerce. Those who dwell there want to create entertainment which has some sort of expression, but the ultimate goal is to make money as well. Pixar is a company which appears to have found a nice balance with this. Beginning with Toy Story in 1995, they have released a series of theatrical computer generated animation films, and these movies often show a great deal of dedication to the craft, even if they are overly-praised. And yet, they still manage to make a ton of money. However, even Pixar can seem to bow to capitalism at times. 2013's Planes was a spin-off of Cars and was originally meant to be a home video release. But, it was sent to theaters instead, where it did fairly well. Pixar has often shied away from sequels in the past, but here we are just a year later with Planes: Fire & Rescue. Is this simply an attempt to cash in on the success of a movie which was a flukey hit to begin with?

Planes: Fire & Rescue begins not long after the events of the first film. Dusty Crophopper (voiced by Dane Cook), the crop-dusting plane which became an air-racing champion, has continued his winning ways and he loves spending time with his friends in Propwash Junction. But, Dusty gets some bad news. His gearbox is damaged and he can't go as fast as he used to. To make matters worse, a fire breaks out at the airport. Following an inspection, it's found that the airport doesn't have the proper emergency equipment. Fearing that he can no longer race, Dusty volunteers to get trained as a firefighter. He ventures to Piston Peak, where he will be under the tutelage of Blade Ranger (voiced by Ed Harris). While Dusty is made welcome by the other members of the group, especially Dipper (voiced by Julie Bowen), he quickly learns that firefighting is very dangerous work and that his gearbox issues may hold him back.

Many of the Pixar movies take an old idea, toys which come to life or monsters in the closet, and put a new, creative spin on it. Planes: Fire & Rescue makes the somewhat odd decision to take a very cliched idea and apply it to what we think of as inanimate objects. Dusty's issue with his gearbox echoes dozens of sports movies where the once-great athlete have received an injury or has worn out some part of their body and if they play too hard, they could become blind, paralyzed, or even die. Faced with this adversity, the athlete must find a way to walk on the edge and not push themselves too far, but still play to win. This all plays out in exactly the same way in Planes: Fire & Rescue, as we see Dusty get the bad news, struggle for a ray of hope, and fight to do his training without putting himself in danger. While this sounds hokey, it's all played very straight and it's a bit odd to see a movie where a plane could have what is essentially a heart attack if it goes too hard.

Following this, the movie makes another odd turn. One can't help but wonder if Pixar had developed a completely separate film which focused on firefighters and then decided to drop Dusty into it. It's certainly jarring that once he learns that he can't race anymore, he's suddenly volunteering to fight fires. Yes, the makes Planes: Fire & Rescue different from the first movie and it introduces us to a whole new group of characters, but it also sheds the familiar faces (?) from Planes rather quickly as well.

As for the new plot, it's certainly passable, but not great. The story is cliched and the characters are stereotypes. (Blade reminded me a lot of the Judge character from Cars.) The narrative is surprisingly straight-forward and there aren't any real twists here. The piece wants to focus more on the mechanics of aerial fire-fighting than much else. Still, the point of this movie is to entertain kids and I think that it will succeed in that aspect, especially those who already have an interest in fire-fighting. While the story makes some odd turns in the beginning, it never slows down, and the running time for the movie before credits is only 73-minutes. There are some nice shots of the planes passing through the fire and smoke (which I bet looked great in 3D) and we get a nice variety of vehicles here. Dusty remains a likeable, if not somewhat bland, leading plane and there are a few laughs here. It's not unusual to see a sequel which isn't as good as the first film, so Planes: Fire & Rescue is in good company there. However, it is unique to see a movie make such a radical departure from its predecessor. Given that, there may be those who didn't like Planes who may want to take this sequel out for a test flight.

Planes: Fire & Rescue offers a surprisingly deep bench in the voice acting department on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 33 Mbps. The image is very sharp and clear, showing no grain and no defects from the source materials. The colors look fantastic, and the image is never overly dark or bright. The level of detail is excellent and the picture has a nice depth to it, even in this 2D version. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 5.5 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. We get very nice stereo effects which show good separation and alert us to sounds coming from off-screen. The surround effects are nicely detailed and display individual sounds, while not just echoing the front channels. The subwoofer is very active with explosion and the rumble of the machines.

The Planes: Fire & Rescue Blu-ray Disc contains several extras. "Vitaminamulch: Air Spectacular" (6 minutes) is an animated short which offers an additional story with Dusty Crophopper. "Welcome to Piston Peak!" (3 minutes) is a faux advertisement for the locales seen in the film, done in the style of a 1960s' travelogue. "'CHoPs' TV Promo" (45 seconds) gives us a closer look at the spoof show seen in the film. "Air Attack: Firefighters From the Sky" (5 minutes) profiles a real-life firefighting team in California which served as a research point for the animators. The Disc contains three DELETED SCENES which run about 5 minutes, complete with introductions by the Director and Producer. These are done in rough CG animation or pencil storyboards. We get the MUSIC VIDEO for the song "Still I Fly" by Spencer Lee. The extras are rounded out by two additional ANIMATED SHORTS which run a total of about 4 minutes.

Review Copyright 2014 by Mike Long