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“Planes: Fire & Rescue”

Courtesy of Disney Pictures

David Ives - published on 07/18/14 - updated on 06/08/17

There are folks out there who don’t wear capes or swing through the city on weblines, but are superheroes just the same.

According to a recent poll by Forbes, 7 out of 33 five-year-olds indicated they want to be a superhero when they grow up, making wearing spandex and fighting super villains the single most popular future career choice for kindergarteners. In particular, the majority of them said they wanted to be Spider-Man when they’re older.

Oh, the follies of youth. Any adult worth their salt could tell those tots not to go with the perpetual man-child who is always scrounging for a buck and can never catch a break. Listen to your elders, children, don’t settle for any superhero position less than Batman!

Anyway, the point is, young children and adults have different perspectives on things. So if you find yourself dumbfounded by Dora The Explorer, baffled by Bubble Guppies, or kind of creeped out by Caillou, don’t fret, that just means you’re a normal, healthy adult. Those kinds of shows weren’t made to appeal to you. And, frankly, neither was Planes: Fire & Rescue.

The fourth movie to be set in the alternate universe of anthropomorphic autos first introduced in Pixar’s Cars, Planes: Fire & Rescue picks up where last year’s Planes left off. Dusty Crophopper, the little crop dusting plane turned air racing pro, is sitting atop the world, beloved by all and practically undefeatable. Unfortunately, the high speeds required for racing have put a strain on Dusty’s gearbox and he is told he must slow down or risk crashing. Distraught over the idea that his racing career might be over, Dusty takes to the skies to prove the diagnosis wrong, but succeeds only in starting a fire at the airport when he must make an emergency landing.

Upon investigating the accident, the local authorities discover that Mayday, the ancient fire truck stationed at Propwash Junction’s small airport, is not up to code. They demand a second firefighter be added to the staff or the airport will have to be shut down. Feeling guilty over his part in the debacle, Dusty agrees to become the airport’s second firefighter and travels to a nearby national park in order to receive training from Mayday’s old friend and veteran fire-and-rescue helicopter, Blade Ranger.

Once at the park, Dusty is quickly introduced to Blade’s team, The Smokejumpers, a motley assortment of vehicles who are more than rough around the edges, but complete professionals when it comes to doing their jobs. There’s Lil’ Dipper, the overly aggressive super scooper with a crush on Dusty, Windlifter, The shaman-like Native-American heavy-lift helicopter, Cabbie, the slow and steady ex-military transport plane, and a lot of others whose names you’ll come to learn as your kids collect their toys and buy their happy meals.

Yeah, I know that last sentence sounds a bit cynical, but the adult in me can’t help but see Planes: Fire & Rescue as something of a cash grab by Disney. The Cars movies have never been among Pixar/Disney’s most critically acclaimed animated films, but, ever since the first Lightning McQueen die cast car hit store shelves back in 2006, they’ve definitely been near the top when it comes to merchandising. Something about those vehicles with eyeballs for windshields and smiles for radiators is just irresistible to kids.

Still, even though the sequels and spin-offs are obviously designed to empty the wallets of parents everywhere, they’re not entirely lacking in artistry. The animation in Planes: Fire & Rescue is still top notch, with some of the flying scenes being quite the treat for the eyes. The flyovers during some of the firefighting sequences are especially well executed. And as with all the Cars movies, the character designs are still appealing to look at. A quick sight gag involving some model airplanes was especially fun.

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