‘Planes’ sequel stays below cruising altitude, despite improvement

By Kevin Thomas

**.5

I was not excited to see “Planes: Fire and Rescue”. The ads looked mediocre and the story seemed uninteresting. I thought this film, like its predecessor, was going to play to kids and nobody else. Imagine my surprise when the movie had a decent story and a few jokes for their parents. Many animated movies have these elements, but the difference between a two and a two-and-a-half star rating came down to the action sequences. When compared to the first film, the action sequences in this are extremely engaging. “Planes 2” is no classic, but it improves upon the original in almost every way. Keep in mind that this task wasn’t very hard to do, but it’s worth noting.

For those who didn’t see the original “Planes”, the story was that Dusty Crophopper (Voiced by Dane Cook) was a crop-duster who wanted to be a racer. He faced and conquered adversity from all sides as he won the world’s most important global aerial race, showing that anyone can do great things if they put their mind to it (a much overused message in kids movies, but I digress.)

This film begins after that climactic race, with Dusty about to be honored for his achievements. Unfortunately, the “little engine that could’ suddenly can’t, due to mechanical failure, putting his future as a racer into question. His mechanic/friend Dottie (Voiced by Teri Hatcher) tells him that the part he needs is no longer produced, thus putting him into a funk. This is quite a generic and boring opening, but the film thankfully improves.

When Dusty decides to push the envelope and test his flying capability, it leads to a fire. Lucky for him, the “Fireflighters” appear to save the day (by knocking over a water tower.) So now, Hal Holbrook as the Fireflighter crew leader (Mayday) is sidelined and Dusty, seeing his racing career in jeopardy, agrees to get certified so he can help him out. Once at the training facility, we meet the rest of the pun-named characters, Captain Blade Ranger (voiced by Ed Harris), Li’l Dipper (voiced by Julie Bowen), and a snobbish bureaucrat you’ll love to hate, Cad (voiced by John Michael Higgins.)

This film will entertain young kids. The story is simple enough, the jokes are mostly kid-friendly, and the action scenes are appropriately intense (excluding the climax, which might scare the youngest.) The characters are colorful and the animation is a step up from the previous installment, but kids will enjoy the film because of the vibrant colors and pleasant score.

All in all, I liked this film better than the original. I felt that little effort was put into making the first film, which was essentially a re-imagining of “Cars.” This flick looks and feels like the company cared about the product they were putting out.

“Planes: Fire and Rescue” is a decent kid pic in a summer mostly void of family entertainment. However, I’m hoping that DisneyToon doesn’t develop “Trains”, “Trucks”, “Bikes”, or any other vehicularly-named titles.

Rated PG for action, peril, and some rude humor.

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