AKA: Disney's Planes: Fire & Rescue; Planes: Fire & Rescue
As the very embodiment of not just wishing upon a star but aspiring to fly among them to make his Disney dreams come true, in the first of three planned "World of Cars" spin-off Planes pictures, Dane Cook's ambitious crop duster ventured from humble beginnings as a farm flyer before overcoming enormous obstacles to take to the international skies as a world-class racer.
Yet just because the underdog made it to the top of our eye-line (in some gorgeously crafted CG sequences that helped distract us from the otherwise by-the-numbers plotline), it doesn't mean that he'll be smooth sailing in the sky for long as this time around, reality in the form of a faulty gearbox soon sends him crashing down from cloud nine.
Hoping to remedy the mess he’s made at home, Dusty cruises over to Piston Peak National Park for what he assumes will be a cakewalk compared to everything he's achieved.
However he quickly finds himself overwhelmed, outclassed, and — whether or not he wants to admit it — seriously impressed by the high precision flying, jaw-dropping displays of teamwork, bravery and lack of ego evidenced by the squad of true heroes whom he encounters.
And though it may be smaller in scope to the global scale of its predecessor, Planes: Fire and Rescue is vastly superior to the first film which ran out of gas and plot by the end of the first act.
Yet while the original Planes would have been better off wrapping up its entire storyline in the form of a short film as opposed to a feature, Fire and Rescue only gets better as it continues, particularly as witnessed by the coolly cinematic introduction to the crew (and what they can do) cut in time to AC/DC's "Thunderstruck."
Admittedly and much like the previous installment, Fire is a retread of the same character archetypes, storylines, style, and structure of Cars — this time with Ed Harris taking on the role as the mentor embodied by Paul Newman in the Pixar original.
However, the one bonus that this film has over the rest of the World series is a genuinely witty, against-type voice-over turn by Modern Family's Julie Bowen Dipper, the aptly-named new coworker of Dusty who's as dippy and she is determined to make Dusty her wingman.
While Dipper's overeager charm recalls Jessie in Toy Story 2 and Dory in Finding Nemo, a theme from another Pixar franchise film floats into the last half of Disney’s Planes that echoes the mature moral conveyed in Monsters University.
For just as Billy Crystal's Mike struggled to adapt his future plans and roll with the punches when he learned that the path he'd always imagined for himself wasn't in the cards, it's precisely the same ability-driven setback that Dusty faces in this film upon realizing that sometimes life doesn't always go the way you’d expect.
A rough patch of a plot twist that can also be viewed as a metaphor for disability, Dusty's role-defining character arc is universally relatable from multiple points-of-view.
Uniting the ambitious flier with his mentor on a more soulful level, viewers eventually discover that, like Dusty, the decision to join the Fire and Rescue Squad came later in life as a fallback career for the character voiced by Harris as well.
Predictably of course, Planes: Fire and Rescue takes a cheap way out by giving its characters another happily ever after solution in the nick of time. Nonetheless, even utilizing this plotline is an admirably responsible step in the right direction for Disney given that their entire empire is built upon wishing on a star and dreams coming true.
For fittingly, over the past thirty years there's been a definite paradigm shift at the House of Mouse in an important transition for not only the classic fairy tales that served as a foundation for the happiest place on earth but also in the underdog films that have replaced them as modern day wish fulfillment sagas.
Winningly, they’ve managed to infuse the works with more realism while still staying true to their roots by never taking away from the importance of optimistic dreams.
Thus, Disney has not only taken responsibility for the oversimplification of tales of old by showing us heroes that know they might need a backup plan to save themselves when times are tough but they also give the youngest generation filmic examples of these very lessons at the very same time.
While it's nowhere near as impactful or thrilling as recent Disney fare including the superlative Wreck it Ralph or Frozen, much like Dusty you have to admire the ability of Planes to bounce back from the problems of the first one early on to deliver something stronger and more successful all around.
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