Director – Bobs Gannaway, Screenplay – Jeffrey M. Howard, Producer – Ferrell Barron, Music – Marc Mancina, Animation Director – Ethan Hurd, Animation – Prana Animation, Production Design – Toby Wilson. Production Company – Disney
Dane Cook (Dusty Crophopper), Ed Harris (Blade Ranger), Julie Bowen (L’il Dipper), Wes Studi (Windlifter), John Michael Higgins (Cad Spinner), Teri Hatcher (Dottie), Brad Garrett (Chug), Hal Holbrook (Mayday), Stacy Keach (Skipper), Curtis Armstrong (Maru), Danny Mann (Sparky), Regina King (Dynamite), Corri English (Pinecone), Bryan Callen (Avalanche), Danny Pardo (Blackout), Dale Dye (Cabbie), Patrick Warburton (Pulaski), Jerry Stiller (Harvey), Anna Meara (Winnie), Cedric the Entertainer (Leadbottom), Barry Corbin (Ol’ Jammer), Fred Willard (Secretary of the Interior)
Back at Propwash Junction, Dusty Crophopper is readying for another big race when a crucial engine part burns out. He needs a replacement but learns from Dottie that it is no longer manufactured, meaning that he cannot push his engine into the red zone anymore. At the same time, one of his landings goes awry and sparks a fire. The aging firetruck Mayday’s attempts to put it out are a disaster and so the civil authorities shut the airfield down until Propwash Junction can be properly upgraded for fire emergency. Dusty comes up with the idea of converting himself into a plane designed to drop water from the air. To be properly certified, he is sent to join the fire and rescue planes that operate at Piston Peak National Park.
World of Cars: Planes (2013) – usually shortened to Planes by most people – was a spinoff from Pixar’s Cars universe that we saw in Cars (2006), Cars 2 (2011) and Cars 3 (2017). Intended by Disney to extrude the franchise, Planes took Cars‘ basic notion of talking, anthropomorphic vehicles and developed it out with talking planes. Planes was on the slight side but a not unenjoyable film. The fact that it was originally intended as a direct-to-dvd release before being bumped up to a theatrical screening tended to show through – the animation seemed more lightweight than the quality we usually see in Pixar’s films.
Fire & Rescue came out eleven months after Planes and was designed for theatres this time. Despite this, there is still the feel of a quickie made-for-dvd release about it. The animation has been outsourced on the cheap to the Prana Animation studio in India. It is still limited and not at the depth and texture that the Cars films were. Most tellingly, new director Bobs Gannaway’s entire career has been in the Disney spinoff industry – he began producing animated tv series spun off from popular Disney films with the likes of Timon and Pumbaa (1995-8), 101 Dalmatians: The Series (1997-8), Lilo and Stitch: The Series (2003-6) and The Emperor’s New School (2006-8) and directing several of the creatively impoverished film sequels to classic Disney films with the likes of Stitch the Movie (2003), Leroy and Stitch (2006) and the Tinkerbell film Secret of the Wings (2012).
Planes: Fire & Rescue sets in amiably. We have a wide range of new introduced characters – the most appealing of which is the Wes Studi-voiced Native American helicopter Windlifter who at one point rather amusingly offers up a retelling of the Coyote legend in terms of anthropomorphic vehicles. There are some appealingly quirky gags – a recreation of the tv show CHiPs (1977-83) with helicopters; a visit to a vehicle bar with line-dancing forklifts and where a female plane rolls her eyes “pick-up trucks.”
In the end, Planes: Fire & Rescue feels lightweight. The animation is generally appealing, often pretty in some of its flights and swoops. Its dramatic beats and denouements all fall into easy and predictable place – the happy wrap-up where Dusty gets his new gasket after everyone else has scoured the globe trying to find a no longer manufactured part occurs with an astonishingly casual flick of the pen given how big a build-up it is given. Mostly though, Fire & Rescue feels an entry in a franchise that is spinning out a series of thinning ideas solely for their own sake.