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'Planes: Fire & Rescue' flies past its predecessor

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Planes: Fire & Rescue

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Disney’s “Planes: Fire & Rescue” climbs past its predecessor and delivers a fine all-ages film during an otherwise very sparsely populated family film summer.

“Planes: Fire & Rescue” is the second in the proposed trilogy of “Planes” films from DisneyToon Studios (historically, a second-tier, direct-to-video arm of the Disney empire that hit the big time with the nearly $220-million dollar earnings from last year’s theatrical release, “Planes”). Comedian Dane Cook again voices Dusty Crophopper, the former cropduster-that-could, who gained fame by winning an around-the-world race during his last on-screen adventure.

Unfortunately, “Fire & Rescue” reveals that Dusty has developed a mechanical problem with his gear box that cannot readily be fixed (akin, perhaps, to a heart-related compromise), painfully cutting short his brief time in the world of speed racing. Dusty, unfortunately, has trouble accepting his newfound gear-box health compromise and attempts to push himself to fly at full throttle, leading to a dangerous and fast-spreading fire in his sleepy hometown hamlet of Propwash Junction.

Although the fire is put out by the town’s aged one-man truck, Mayday (Hal Holbrook), investigating fire officials mandate that the town needs more fire personnel or its airport will be shut down. Reluctant to leave behind his pursuit of racing but aware of his health-compromise, the guilt-ridden Dusty goes to nearby Piston Peak National Park to train with its skilled fire team, including superfan and water-scooper, Dipper (Julie Bowen), and fire and rescue helicopter Blade Ranger (Ed Harris). There, Dusty has to contend with new dynamics, a new career, personal modifications, and ever-present wildfires.

“Fire & Rescue” most definitely ascends past its first incarnation. While “Planes” had its fun moments (particularly its rendition of “Love Machine” sung as a serenade by El Chupacabra), it often felt like a good-spirited mishmash of other films (sort of “Cars” meets “Turbo” with songs, jokes, and aircraft carriers thrown in for good measure). Instead, “Fire & Rescue” feels more cohesive in its very transparent plot: Dusty is to help fight fires. As such, this is not a nuanced film about character development and the power of love (leave that to “Frozen”); this is a film about firefighting planes and vehicles (with a couple of wink-and-nudge references to entertain parents).

As a whole, “Fire & Rescue” is a shade darker than “Planes” and, ultimately, unfolds as a drama with thrilling scenes of fire-related peril (that are still tolerated by most young viewers). “Fire and Rescue” also seems better technically crafted that “Planes,” most notably in its visuals (the depiction of the fires, themselves, as well as, the stepwise aspects of how burns are controlled are quite fascinating -- and even potentially comforting for young viewers) and in its crackling sound design (listen for the planes’ motors, the vocal tone changes when flying into clouds of smoke, and the hiss and rustle of the fires).

“Planes: Fire & Rescue” is far from the best Disney has to offer. But, in a summer filled with films that may be too-intense for the littles in the family (“How to Train Your Dragon 2”), too motion-sickness provoking for the adults (“Earth to Echo”), or too poorly written (“Legends of Oz”), “Fire & Rescue” provides a fun family respite with a nice salute to those firefighters who sacrifice so much for so many. “Planes: Fire & Rescue” is rated 4 - of 5 stars.

“Planes: Fire & Rescue” is rated PG for “action and some peril.”

The summer movie season is heating up and many more reviews are on the way, including Scarlett Johansson’s “Lucy.” Want to find out more about all the upcoming summer blockbusters? Subscribe now to new articles at the top of the page. Also, “like” Christine as the “San Antonio Movie Examiner” on Facebook or follow @christinephd on Twitter or @christine0959 on Pinterest. See you at the movies!

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