Planes: Fire & Rescue fails to take flight

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Featuring the voices of Dane Cook, Ed Harris, and Julie Bowen. Rated G.

Parents are going to have to grit their teeth and take this one for the team. Planes: Fire & Rescue unabashedly aims its high-action, thin-story movie at the four-to-eight-year-old boy. Adults shouldn’t hope for more than a few inside jokes (a pickup truck hitting on a pink compact at a hangar bar) or deeper levels like there were in The Lego Movie or even Cars—the movie that started all this. Instead, things go zoom and go boom.

At least filmmaker Roberts Gannaway makes an attempt to take a different flight path here than in the first, forgettable Planes: the original’s Dusty (Dane Cook), who morphed from cropduster to race star in the original, is forced here by mechanical problems to find a new career. That’s when he straps on the water-carrying pontoons and has to learn to work with firefighting planes and cranes in a Yosemite-like national park.

The flying scenes are the big draw here, the 3-D animation taking us over blazing coniferous forests, into hoodoo-filled canyons and through thick ash-strewn smoke, the planes spreading pink clouds of fire retardant.

Amid this depth of field, though, the characterizations are disappointingly two-dimensional. Aside from Julie Bowen’s hilariously over-friendly Li’l Dipper (who quips to her idol Dusty “Yep, they’re real” when she lowers her landing gear), the planes, trains, and automobiles are too numerous to connect with, paling next to Cars’s comparitively rich cast of gas-guzzlers. In fact, Planes: Fire & Rescue has stolen at least one character straight out of that movie: Ed Harris’s helicopter Blade is a mysterious geezer with a celebrity past, an airborne version of Doc Hudson.

Despite its looks and a few killer rescue scenes—not to mention the Disney pedigree—the Planes sequel often just feels like it flew off course from straight-to-video.

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