Genre: Animation, Adventure
Directed by: Roberts Gannaway
Starring: Dane Cook, Ed Harris, Julie Bowen, John Michael Higgins, Curtis Armstrong
Slap a couple of oversized eyes on pretty much any object and you’ve got yourself children’s entertainment. A whole straight to DVD factory line churns out the same big eyed dross that in no time is battling it out in a Darwinian struggle to avoid being the last disc in the bargain bin. Such was the fate facing Planes before a change of heart saw it take off into cinemas last year. Finishing its flight a surprise hit, a sequel has duly arrived. Failing to improve on the previous recipe of bland characterisation and weak jokes, Planes: Fire and Rescue still provides enough thrills to keep all ages happy.
When we last saw him, plucky Dusty Crophopper (Dane Cook) was breaking free from a life of repetitive low level crop dusting to become champion racer of the world. This time out we start with him cementing his position in a series of daring wins. But plucky though he may be, Dusty is still just a crop duster and his engine isn’t made for the punishment that comes with the international racing circuit. Irreparably damaged and with no replacements, he’s left facing a bleak future.
A mishap that develops into a slapstick firefighting effort provides him with this new purpose. With his old airfield in need of an additional firefighter in order to reopen, Dusty is despatched to train with a Wild Fire Air Attack unit giving him ample opportunity to dash into peril and save the day once again under the tutelage of gruff Blade Ranger (Ed Harris), the team leader with a tragic past.
Keeping it simple, Planes 2 is a film that knows its limitations. With weak characterisation and a bland central story, director Bobs Gannaway wisely keeps the focus on the action. Here, the decision to move from the world of racing to that of aerial firefighting pays dividends. When Dusty first comes across his new team in action, it’s a thrilling affair with smartly rendered smoke and leaping flames combining with a series of dizzying dives and risky rolls.
This proves only a taster ahead of an extended climax that sees Dusty and Blade swoop around a rapidly advancing blaze, take shelter in an abandoned mine and almost drown in a waterfall. A final last gasp rescue on a picturesque bridge is frankly more impressive than a low-key Cars spin-off should be able to muster. The whole film belies its inauspicious origins with consistently high quality visuals and even the odd joke that hits the mark (police show spoof Chops the stand out).
There’s no danger that Planes 2 will reach the dizzy heights of prime Pixar or recent A list Disney offerings though. When the flames die down its marred by a parade of dull characters, a flimsy story and a number of jokes that fall well short of the target. It may be possible to thrill in Dusty’s exploits but it’s much harder to actually care. And yet for as long as they remain in the air, there’s just enough fire and rescue to carry the day.