Truth be told, I haven't seen the first Planes, which chronicled crop-dusting plane Dusty Crophopper's quest to overcome his fear of heights and become a world-renowned aerial racer. In the follow-up, Planes: Fire & Rescue, Dusty's gearbox malfunctions, and he may no longer be able to race at all. In the face of a career change and to help a friend out, Dusty enters the world of aerial firefighting by joining veteran fire and rescue helicopter Blade Runner and his team known as The Smokejumpers.
The nice thing about sequels aimed at younger generations is that you don't need to see the first one to understand the second. The plot is straightforward and full of interesting visuals, lessons learned, and even a few jokes for the parents watching. Just as you would expect, Dusty meets new friends, learns to work as a team, and acquires a new appreciation for the heroes that put their lives on the line to save the lives of others. It's a good, genuine message, and the film is dedicated to real firefighters everywhere that do the same every day.
Planes: Fire & Rescue is a perfectly adequate kid's movie but fails to be anything more. The plot is predictable, the jokes formulaic, and the dollar signs of merchandising opportunities practically jump offscreen. Ignoring the strangeness of having a raunchy comedian like Dane Cook in the lead role, the actors do a fair job with their roles. And who wouldn't sign up for a movie that requires minimum work and massive payouts that they can show their kids with no trepidation?
While I enjoyed the original Cars film from Pixar, I've never understood John Lasseter's (chief creative officer at Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios) fascination with animated machinery. I spent large swaths of the movie distracted by the giant holes in this world. Why are there traditional houses in the countryside when there aren't people? Why do the cars and planes have doors when no one uses them? At one point, there's a joke aimed at the parents that alludes to two older RVs having sex, which led me on a strange mental tangent about how these animated vehicles reproduce and how in the world it could involve wearing out the female RV's tire treads. A good story lets you forget about all these details because you're so absorbed in the plot, but Planes: Fire & Rescue didn't deliver on that front.
All that said, this is a perfectly easy and enjoyable movie for the whole family to see. I'm sure that as long as children keep clamoring to have their own Dusty Crophopper action figure (now in new Fire & Rescue dubs!), Disney and Lasseter will keep cranking these films out.