Before the final credits roll on “Planes: Fire & Rescue,” my 7-year-old turns and says to me: “If they come out with a toy of that, can I get it?”
Well played, Disney. On some level, even a kid knows this unnecessary sequel to last summer’s unimaginative “Planes” is a merchandising money grab.
While slightly superior to the original – not hard to do – the animated 3-D adventure comes courtesy of first-time feature director Roberts Gannaway and writer Jeffrey M. Howard. The story is stiff, like one long episode of “Thomas The Tank Engine.” But they’ve upped the ante on making Mom and Dad smile, incorporating silly puns and one liners, such as a pickup’s pick-up line: “Did you fall out of a B-17? Cuz you’re the bomb.”
The animation is lush and colorful, but that alone won’t keep antsy children planted in seats. Neither will the clichéd story of overcoming impossible odds and facing fears. But the movie earns points with a couple of majestic flying scenes, including one set to AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck” showing the gang flying high and swooping down to extinguish a wild fire. It’s as close to thrilling as the action gets.
When we catch up with Dusty (voiced by Dane Cook), the little-crop-duster-that-could, he is the reigning Wings Around the Globe race champion. He’s famous – and loving it. His celebrity is a boost to the upcoming Corn Festival in Prop Wash Junction. Life is good. Until it’s not. Dusty suffers a career-ending gearbox failure. He also sparks a fire that brings emergency inspectors TMST (This Means Serious Trouble) to investigate after Prop Wash’s fire engine, the old-timer Mayday (Hal Holbrook), also poops out. The findings: Mayday needs fixing and the town a second firefighter – or ixnay the Corn Festival.
Guess who steps to the plate. Off goes Dusty to the Piston Peak Air Attack training facility to get certified. There, he meets up with the flirty float plane, Lil Dipper (Julie Bowen), a muscle-head helicopter in Windlifter (Wes Studi), and the gruff mentor Blade Ranger (Ed Harris), who aims to school the overconfident Dusty on the ways of S.E.A.T. (Single Engine Aerial Tanker).
Their dynamic is a rip-off of Lightning McQueen and Doc Hudson from “Cars,” right down to a bit of hidden past glory on behalf of Blade Ranger. In one of the film’s more inspired moments, we learn Blade Ranger once starred on “CHoPS,” a parody the early ’80s TV cop drama “ChiPS.” Erik Estrada even lends his voice as Blade Ranger’s partner Nick “Loop’n” Lopez.
That bit certainly amused the parents but flew right over the heads of the kiddies, who seemed more interested in buying toys than seeing a movie that never takes flight.