Much like remakes of popular Hollywood franchises, sequels to animated movies are released with varying degrees of success: for every Toy Story 2 or Despicable Me 2 there’s a Cars 2 or Ice Age 2 that fails to build upon the charm and originality of its predecessor.
So it should come as no surprise that Planes: Fire & Rescue, the sequel to Disney’s critically panned 2013 animated feature Planes, continues in its struggle to replicate the same clever dialogue and strong storytelling as the movie it so desperately tries to emulate – 2006’s Oscar-nominated Cars.
Directed by Roberts Gannaway, Fire & Rescue once again centres on Dusty Crophopper (Dane Cook), the now world-famous crop-duster plane who has become a household name since winning the prestigious Wings Around the Globe race.
After an ill-advised flight results in both a fire that highlights how ill-equipped the local town is to deal with an emergency as well as a damaged engine that threatens to derail his racing career, Dusty is thrust into the unpredictable and dangerous world of aerial firefighting. Alongside a team of quirky emergency planes including Blade Ranger (Ed Harris), a grizzled, no-nonsense former TV star turned rescue helicopter and Dipper (Julie Bowen), an air tanker who’s smitten with Dusty’s stardom, the former race champion must learn how to battle the constant wildfires that threaten to engulf the historic Piston Peak National Park.
Despite coming out less than a year after the original, Planes: Fire & Rescue quickly establishes itself as more of a standalone than a sequel as the original supporting cast (although quickly reunited within the first few minutes) is shunted to minimal roles early on. In their stead is a new group of planes, helicopters and motor vehicles that are as cliché as they are uninteresting.
Aside from Bowen’s Dipper, who is without doubt the film’s funniest character and in some ways reminiscent of Finding Nemo’s Dory albeit in a smaller role, the rest of the cast is one-dimensional, as their only purpose is to aid Dusty on his quest to become a certified firefighter. This is particularly troublesome considering Cook’s uninspiring take on the crop-duster resurfaces in the sequel as the veteran comedian once again fails to bring any unique traits or personality to the role.
Fire & Rescue does add a bit of a twist to the tried, tested and true Disney formula of heroism, teamwork and overcoming the odds, as Dusty struggles to cope with the reality of a career change after he finds out that his damaged gearbox may not be replaceable.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with kid-friendly Fire & Rescue – the movie offers enough jokes and glitzy animation to capture its target audience as well as a few witty puns for their accompanying adult – it just doesn’t introduce any new ideas or compelling characters, traits that we’ve come to expect from high-level animated films.
What’s particularly frustrating about Fire & Rescue’s mediocrity is that the message it tries to send (that firefighters and emergency personnel risk their lives every day in dangerous situations to protect us from harm’s way) is incredibly powerful and one worth telling.