Adventure Animation

Barrel-Rolling Blu-ray Review: Planes: Fire & Rescue

November 11, 2014Ben MK

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Up, up and away...

In Disney's 1940 classic, Fantasia, moviegoers marveled as Mickey used a magic spell to breathe life into ordinary mops. It's a feat that was repeated in 1986 by Pixar, only this time the subject was a lamp called Luxo, and the magic was all done entirely inside a computer. Fast forward twenty-odd years, and similar technology has been used to bring Pixar's Cars franchise, its spiritual successor, Planes, and its sequel, Planes: Fire & Rescue, to the big screen. But though the artistic wizardry has evolved over the years, it's easy to see that the heart behind the movies remains unchanged.


The Film If at first you don't succeed, try and try again. That might as well be the motto for the filmmaking team behind Planes: Fire & Rescue — director Roberts Gannaway and writer Jeffrey M. Howard — for after the somewhat middling maiden flight that was the first Planes movie, the entire gang from Propwash Junction are back for a second spin. And thankfully, the results are slightly more impressive this time around.

Picking up where director Klay Hall's first film left off, Fire & Rescue reunites moviegoers with Dusty Crophopper (voiced once again by Dane Cook), the feisty single-engine crop duster who overcame near-impossible odds to win the hearts of spectators everywhere and become the Wings Around the Globe Rally champion.

When we're reintroduced to him at the beginning of the movie, Dusty's flying high on the wings of fame and fortune, while doing his pals from Propwash Junction — including his coach, Sparky (Danny Mann), mechanic, Dottie (Teri Hatcher), and fuel truck, Chug (Brad Garrett) — proud. However, it isn't long until Dusty's brought back down to earth, when an engine malfunction during a routine practice flight threatens to permanently put him out of commission.

The problem lies with Dusty's reduction gearbox, a part long since out of production (and, hence, irreplaceable). And when Dottie warns him that he risks crashing if he continues flying the way he's been doing, Dusty fears that his racing days may be over for good.

Unfortunately, that's not all the bad news the residents of Propwash Junction have in store for them, as a fiery mishap soon leads the Transportation Management Safety Team to shut down the airport, citing the lack of a second firefighting vehicle. And with the fate of Propwash Junction's annual Corn Fest now in jeopardy, Dusty takes it upon himself to become that second vehicle.

So begins Dusty's journey from air racer to S.E.A.T. (or Single Engine Air Tanker), as he makes his way to the Piston Peak Air Attack base in majestic Piston Peak National Park to train with its Chief of Fire & Rescue, Blade Ranger (Ed Harris). There, he meets a whole new group of friends — including Dipper (Julie Bowen), Windlifter (Wes Studi) and Dynamite (Regina King) — and learns what it means to be a real hero.

Sure, it's a rather straightforward story that espouses values commonly found in kid-oriented fare, such as teamwork and family. And with fairly predictable results to boot. But Fire & Rescue earns points for at least avoiding retreading the same territory as the first film. On top of that, Gannaway and Howard keep the story clipping along at an enjoyable pace, by working in a number of exciting action sequences (where we get to see the Piston Peak Air Attack team do what they do best, which is fight fires), as well as a fair bit of puns that will give even the adults in the room cause to chuckle (how can you not love vehicles that drink "Crudeweiser" beer, or a TV actor named "Boat Reynolds"?).

Audio/Visual Fidelity As one might expect for a recent CG-animated film such as this, Planes: Fire & Rescue soars onto Blu-ray with a pristine and picturesque A/V presentation, boasting a thoroughly pleasing, ultra-sharp hi-def image free of any unsightly blemishes such as banding, macroblocking or aliasing. From the characters' paint jobs to the forest and mountainside backdrops of Piston Peak National Park and Augerin Canyon, the vibrant Blu-ray transfer is the perfect showcase for the film's colorful palette, which douses every inch of the screen with brilliant hues of orange, purple, red, yellow, blue and green. Likewise, the disc's DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 soundtrack is the ideal accompaniment to the lush visuals, bringing to life the variety of elements comprising the film's soundstage, from the banter between characters, to the revving of airplane engines and the whir of helicopter blades, not to mention composer Mark Mancina's score and songs such as AC/DC's "Thunderstruck" and Spencer Lee's "Still I Fly".

Special Features Disney's Blu-ray release includes DVD and iTunes digital copies of the film, along with 24 minutes of HD bonus features, most of which are geared towards younger audiences. First up is Vitaminamulch: Air Spectacular, a 6-minute short starring Dusty and Chug as an inept stunt duo. This is followed by the 3-minute Welcome To Piston Peak!, a faux vintage ad for the fictitious Piston Peak National Park, which sings the praises of its breathtaking monuments, from magnificent V6 Valley to expansive Anchor Lake. Next up is a 1-minute "CHoPs" TV Promo, which is a faux vintage promo for "California Helicopter Patrol", the fake TV show that once starred Blade Ranger. Then there's Air Attack: Firefighters from the Sky, a 5-minute featurette where producer Ferrell Barron and director Roberts Gannaway take viewers on a tour of Hemet-Ryan Air Attack Base, on which Piston Peak Air Attack was based. There are also 5-minutes of Deleted Scenes ("Intro", "Honkers" and "Dusty's Dream No More"), a 2-minute "Still I Fly" Music Video By Spencer Lee and two more animated shorts (the 2-minute Dipper and the 2-minute Smoke Jumpers).

The Bottom Line Planes: Fire & Rescue may not measure up to the same high standards as Pixar classics like Finding Nemo or The Incredibles, but it's definitely a step up from its predecessor, delivering an easily digestible blend of kid-friendly entertainment and adult-friendly humor, with a dash of action and adventure thrown in for good measure. It's nothing mind-blowing, but as far as family films go, it gets the job done. Similarly, Disney's Blu-ray release isn't as feature-laden as some of Pixar's Blu-ray releases have been, but its picture-perfect audio and video is enough to earn it a spot alongside your Disney/Pixar favorites.  Ben Mk

Disc Breakdown
The Film  —  
Audio/Visual Fidelity  —  
Special Features  —  

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