By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Planes: Fire & Rescue, the sequel to Planes, has a familiar wing to it.
This sequel equals.
Originally intended to be a straight-to-video vehicle, last summer’s Planes proved to be a moderately charming, transportation-themed, animated adventure, a spinoff of the far-superior Cars flicks without the winking grownup humor.
The inevitable followup to the commercially successful kidflick — dedicated in a legend at the top to courageous, life-risking firefighters everywhere — is another PG-rated film aimed unapologetically at the preschool kids in the family audience.
As you would expect, it is very much like its predecessor, with many among the large voice cast back, and it’s similarly eye-poppingly gorgeous and inventively bright, with graceful and lovely flying sequences that will especially enthrall youngsters enamored of flying vehicles.
In addition, this installment number two, co-scripted by returning screenwriter Jeffrey M. Howard and director Roberts Gannaway, celebrates the heroism and selfless teamwork of firefighters and is somewhat more character-driven than its predecessor, raising the dramatic and emotional stakes a bit by boosting the level of peril — which might disenfranchise some of the younger children but should make the experience that much more palatable for the parents, guardians, and chaperones in attendance.
However, although the theme of downsizing and readjusting goals could have been further explored to engage viewers of age, the scriptwriters remain focused on their target audience of fresh-faced youngsters. And why shouldn’t they?
We are, first of all, back in Propwash Junction.
Air racer and international air race winner Dusty Crophopper, a single-propeller plane voiced once again by Dane Cook, is now a celebrity of sorts. But he discovers that the gearbox in his engine is malfunctioning and that the part he needs to do the repair is difficult if not impossible to track down.
Then a fire breaks out at their small community airport, which has to be shut down by safety officials, who demand that oudated firetruck “Mayday,” voiced by Hal Holbrook, must be upgraded and needs to be joined by a second emergency responder.
So, feeling responsible for the fire and worried that he’ll never race again anyway, Dusty decides to get certified by taking up aerial firefighting, joining forces with Blade Ranger, a stern veteran fire and rescue helicopter, voiced by Ed Harris, and his team of all-terrain vehicles known as the Smokejumpers, many of them older machines that are being given a chance to prove that they haven’t outlived their usefulness, as they take on a massive, rampaging wildfire as part of their mandate to protect historic Piston Peak National Park during wildfire season.
Among the Smokejumpers are aquatic plane Lil’ Dipper (Julie Bowen), helicopter Windlifter (Wes Studi), and ex-military transport Cabbie (Dale Dye).
Debuting director Gannaway, a veteran of television animation, has a more fluid, visually stimulating style of animation to work with in this second excursion (with a third on the way), boasting fire sequences that are jaw-dropping in their verisimilitude.
And he’s remarkably successful in managing to get us to reach beyond all the anthropomorphism on display -– these are planes, after all -– so that we can respond emotionally to them as characters attempting to do good deeds and survive.
So we’ll douse 2½ stars out of 4 for Planes: Fire & Rescue, a watchable, heart-on-its-sleeve comedy-drama that should engage the kids from takeoff to touchdown.
As for you grownups, you’ll be smiling while you watch the kids watch — you watch!