The Walt Disney crew is beyond expert at turning out these clever, funny, appealing, 3-D, animated films. Even their less successful works are polished entertainments. This sequel to last year’s moderate hit Planes finds the race-winning plane Dusty learning that his gearbox is permanently damaged and irreplaceable.
No longer able to race, and rather than going back to crop-dusting, Dusty joins a fire-and-rescue team. Learning to be part of a team and less of a star, Dusty really begins to love working in a group – especially one engaged in such important, even if potentially life-threatening, work. Although he has a few missteps along the way, Dusty keeps learning. After successfully battling smaller fires the entire fire-and-rescue squad is almost overwhelmed by a fast-raging, seemingly unstoppable conflagration.
Often breathtakingly beautiful, as well as wittily written to entertain both children and adults, Planes: Fire & Rescue still falls flat. A lot of this has to do with the voice work, which finds an impressive cast doing almost consistently unmemorable work. The voices are too homogenized, and don't really allow their characters to stand out. With the days of shared ethnic stereotyping as well as extreme regional characteristics and resulting prejudices now gone, perhaps the time of the easy, character-defining accent has also left. Even with a more limited available verbal palette, however, the voices here are hardly individualized, and sound mass-produced and plastic-wrapped.
Astonishing feats of airplane maneuvering and sumptuously rich depictions of wildly burning forests can be visually pleasurable and cinematically impressive. But when an animated film is set in the real world rather than using the medium’s ability to entirely recast reality, there is every danger of the narrative being unable to exponentially expand beyond the art. Even with pronounced cartoon characters, an adherence to mimetic standards can squander animation's most unique abilities. Is a thrilling plane trip still somewhat saddled because its execution is entirely the result of conscious creation?
Overall, Planes: Fire & Rescue, though featuring lovely graphics and stunning animation, is just too mundane. There is obviously an enormous amount of effort and ambition invested in this project. Unfortunately, the best intentions clearly resulted in the creation of a largely unimaginative, if still mildly entertaining, work.