Planes: Fire & Rescue manages an incredibly low feat by being better than its dire predecessor, but that’s still not saying very much. It manages to improve upon the original by making a story that makes a lot more narrative sense instead of being a Cars rehash, while providing kids with a more positive message than just aspiring to go fast and be famous.
Things couldn’t be going any better for anthropomorphised crop duster turned racer Dusty Crophopper (Dane Cook) when bad news strikes. He learns that his engine is damaged and he may never race again. After an unfortunate accident shuts down his airfield, he decides to shift gears and takes up aerial firefighting. Dusty joins forces with veteran helicopter Blade Ranger (Ed Harris) and his courageous team. There’s Dipper (Julie Bowen), Windlifter (Wes Studi), ex-military transport Cabbie (Dale Dye) and a bunch all-terrain vehicles known as The Smokejumpers. They battle a huge wildfire and Dusty finds his true calling.
Planes: Fire & Rescue is still an incredibly basic movie that is aimed at a very young crowd, but despite the quick turn around between this film and the original, this one offers its intended audience a lot more than the last film did. I went into this one with incredibly low expectations after despising the first one. and nothing about this series still demands to be seen theatrically. The animation is solid, yet again fairly basic, and the narrative is designed only to keep the kids distracted on the couch while you do the dishes and fold the laundry. But at least it aspires to kids better jokes that have some actual wit to them without running the risking going over the target demographics head. Director Roberts Gannaway takes the story away from the standard “small town guy who wants to be famous and go fast ,” and allows it to evolve into something actually nice and positive. It’s actually doing a fairly good job of helping kids appreciate firefighters and the sacrifices that those men and women make on a daily basis.
Cook is a serviceable and likeable lead with “aw, shucks” vocal inflections and Dusty is an easier character to like and get behind here. The supporting cast is also a step up this time out. Instead of Brad Garrett, Stacey Keach and Teri Hatcher this time around we get Ed Harris, Julie Bowen and Wes Studi basically similar roles. Only this time the supporting characters have an actual goal and reason to be there.
It’s basically designed to make kids want to be firefighters when they grow up, but there are worse things Planes: Fire & Rescue could be. It could be a continuation of the first film’s terrible story, plotting, and characters. Hardly anyone who sees this now as a kid will remember it or remember it all that fondly, but it’s a well meaning story about working together as a team, facing adversity head on, and learning to just be yourself. There are always room for those lessons.