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Planes: Fire & Rescue Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD Review

Disney's Planes: Fire & Rescue (2013) movie poster Planes: Fire & Rescue

Theatrical Release: July 18, 2014 / Running Time: 92 Minutes / Rating: PG

Director: Bobs Gannaway / Writers: Bobs Gannaway, Jeffrey M. Howard (story & screenplay)

Voice Cast: Dane Cook (Dusty Crophopper), Ed Harris (Blade Ranger), Julie Bowen (Lil' Dipper), Curtis Armstrong (Maru), John Michael Higgins (Cad), Hal Holbrook (Mayday), Wes Studi (Windlifter), Brad Garrett (Chug), Teri Hatcher (Dottie), Stacy Keach (Skipper Riley), Cedric the Entertainer (Leadbottom), Danny Mann (Sparky), Barry Corbin (Ol' Jammer), Regina King (Dynamite), Anne Meara (Winnie), Jerry Stiller (Harvey), Fred Willard (Secretary of the Interior), Dale Dye (Cabbie), Matt Jones (Drip), Bryan Callen (Avalanche), Danny Pardo (Blackout), Corri English (Pinecone), Kari Wahlgren (Patch), Patrick Warburton (Pulaski), Rene Auberjonois (Concierge), Kevin Michael Richardson (Ryker), Erik Estrada (Nick Loopin' Lopez), Steve Schirripa (Steve), Brent Musburger (Brent Mustangburger), John Ratzenberger (Brodi)

Buy Planes: Fire & Rescue from Amazon.com: Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD DVD Instant Video

Many of you who read this site share my appreciation for animation. We consider it not a subgenre of family entertainment but a medium for storytelling. We view it as an art form that can be enjoyed by people of all ages.
We follow the Oscars' Best Animated Feature Oscar race with ambivalence, welcoming the recognition but regretting that the class is treated to a consolation prize when typically one or two of the nominees should absolutely be competing for top honors against their live-action brethren.

We know all the animation studios out there and their work. We are the minority of the moviegoing public, which is why posters and trailers announce a new animated movie is "From the makers of Coraline & ParaNorman" instead of simply calling it a Laika film. We know that there is a world of difference between Pixar Animation Studios, widely accepted as the creative leader of the pack, and DisneyToon Studios, whose output has evolved from cheap, lucrative direct-to-video sequels to the more polished but still direct-to-video Disney Fairies movies. It is a distinction that may very well be lost on the general public, when they see Planes advertised "From Above the World of Cars." With such similar character design, red and silver logos, and succinct titles, can the non-fanatical public truly be faulted for assuming that Pixar is simply adding to their much-merchandised universe of talking vehicles? Parents and kids looking for nothing more than a fun summer outing, 90 minutes of kid-friendly viewing, must be forgiven for not distinguishing Disney from Disney/Pixar.

We enthusiasts, of course, know better. We know that Pixar's impossibly perfect batting average has come down, but still remains far better than the competition's. We know that 2014 was the first year since 2005 not to offer a new Pixar movie, but that the company will make it up to us with two new movies next year. We know that Pixar's biggest creative misstep remains Cars 2 and that the studio is to blame for allowing, but not making the theatrical spin-off Planes. That underwhelming 2013 movie was all DisneyToon, who wisely opted not to identify themselves as "the makers of Cinderella II: Dreams Come True and Beauty and the Beast: Belle's Magical World."

The marketing campaign for Planes: Fire & Rescue, summer 2014's patently unnecessary follow-up, toned down the misleading phrases a bit. But the damage is already done and probably worth investigating for those who study brands and their fluctuating levels of appeal. Still, I must reiterate for those who aren't so passionate about animation: Planes: Fire & Rescue is a film made by DisneyToon Studios of Tinker Bell and the Great Fairy Rescue fame, not the studio that gave us Toy Story 3.

Crop duster turned world racing champion Dusty Crophopper becomes a fire plane in "Planes: Fire & Rescue."

Perhaps it took a year for that information to sink in. Because eleven months after the original Planes generated all kinds of profit with a worldwide gross of $220 million, Planes: Fire & Rescue sputtered, earning just $139 million worldwide, showing significant declines both domestically and abroad. The sequel's reviews were less venomous than those of its predecessor, and who's to say what kind of impact they have on a kid-oriented family film? Still, sequels' totals often reflect the perceived quality of the preceding chapter. If we can safely assume that's what's happening here, then there is some justice in the entertainment world and those who value animation can take pleasure in a box office performance that doesn't merely reflect a studio's marketing muscle.

Like the aforementioned Cars 2, this second Planes moves its universe in an altogether different direction. The concept for this sequel probably couldn't have been much more detailed than "What if we made Dusty a fire plane?" The question was likely prompted by some news footage of airtankers fighting the wildfires that are fairly prevalent in California, the state housing the movie industry's capital. And so, Dusty Crophopper, the simple crop duster turned world famous air racer, becomes a firefighting plane.

There is some rationale behind this sudden career change. Dusty (voiced again by Dane Cook) has accidentally started a fire, which puts Propwash Junction's old fire truck Mayday (Hal Holbrook) into inefficient action. In the aftermath of the incident, bureaucratic safety agency TMST shows up and strips Propwash Junction of its airport license, demanding upgrades for Mayday and the addition of a second fire engine. Dusty, whose future in racing has been jeopardized by a failing reduction gearbox that is essentially irreplaceable, volunteers to get certified to save the town on the eve of its much-anticipated annual Corn Fest.

Dusty reports to the Piston Peak Air Attack, where he draws a mix of reactions from the excitement of Dipper (Julie Bowen), a forthright fan who's swift to pounce, to the skepticism of Blade Ranger (Ed Harris), the head honcho with a secret past (basically Doc Hudson all over again). There's also Windlifter (Wes Studi), a wise Native American helicopter with feather-like blades (you can't make this stuff up).

Old married RV couple Harvey and Winnie (voiced by real-life old married couple Jerry Stiller and Anne Meara) try to remember where they had their first kiss. Cad, the owner of the Grand Fusel Lodge, invites Dusty to attend a lavish ceremony.

The story is pretty straightforward and inevitable, with Dusty being a bit overconfident, slow to learn, and somewhat hindered by having to keep his torque down on his failing gearbox.
There's an ornate old hotel, the Grand Fusel Lodge, whose proprietor Cad (John Michael Higgins) puts his business before safety. And there are fires that need to be put out which require speed and bravery.

The first Planes drew a lot of disdain from me and other critics who were disheartened to see the notion of talking vehicles, put to pretty outstanding use on the original Cars, further dumbed down and used as an excuse for merchandise. We all knew a sequel was coming because the end credits announced as much, prompting eyes to roll. Fire & Rescue is no better or worse than its predecessor, but its low quality does not come as a surprise or a slap in the face. It is expected and that makes the experience less painful.

This is still subpar cinema, the type that takes under two minutes to deliver its first gas joke. This sequel's sense of humor warrants the minor criticism the original Cars got multiplied many times. Part of Fire & Rescue's comedy seems purely designed to secure a PG rating from the MPAA, as if that is hard to do and as if a G rating would make it any less hip. So, there's a "Kicked Aston Martin" joke, and Mayday shows others the equivalent of his butt. PG: Accomplished. There isn't all that much comedy after that and what's there isn't much different or worse than the international pandering of Cars 2. Some of it is clearly aimed at parents, as to be sure is the use of AC/DC's "Thunderstruck" to show us the fire squad in action. Perhaps that will get some dads tapping their feet?

Fire & Rescue disappoints in the same ways as its predecessor. The story doesn't engage or excite. Characters seem to be introduced more for merchandise purposes than storytelling: this installment replaces most of the first film's cast with us hardly noticing or caring. Dusty remains one bland leading man devoid of personality.

On the plus side, the visuals are much improved. DisneyToon's animation can practically be mistaken for that of the first Cars eight years ago, even though the $50 M production budget is just a small fraction of what is spent to make Pixar and Disney Animation Studios' films these days (which each cost upwards of $150 M). Nonetheless, nice scenery is not enough to make viewers old or young overlook a dull story and uninteresting characters.

The latest 3D movie Disney hasn't bothered to release to Blu-ray 3D, Planes: Fire & Rescue recently hit home video in a DVD and the two-disc Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD combo pack reviewed here.

Planes: Fire & Rescue Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD combo pack cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray & DVD Details

2.40:1 Widescreen (DVD Anamorphic)
BD: 7.1 DTS-HD MA (English); DVD: Dolby Digital 5.1 (English)
Both: Dolby Surround 2.0 (Descriptive Video Service), Dolby Digital 5.1 (French, Spanish)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, English, French, Spanish
DVD Closed Captioned; Most Extras Subtitled
Release Date: November 4, 2014 / Suggested Retail Price: $39.99
Two single-sided discs (1 BD-50 & 1 DVD-9)
Blue Keepcase with Side Snap in Embossed Cardboard Slipcover
Also available as standalone DVD ($29.99 SRP), and Instant Video

VIDEO and AUDIO

Fire & Rescue opts for 2.40:1, the wider and more cinematic of today's two standard aspect ratios, a change from its 1.78:1 predecessor. As a digital production, the move to Blu-ray is a simple one, which yields no complications or concerns. Once or twice, the picture doesn't look as sharp as it should, but most of the time, it's appropriately vibrant and agreeably detailed. As mentioned above, it's even somewhat picturesque on occasion.

The Blu-ray's default 7.1 DTS-HD master audio mix is equally lively and commendable, engulfing with effects and music that never drown out the dialogue.

Chug and Dusty pose as daredevil planes Vandemonium and Air Devil Jones in the all-new short "Vitaminamulch: Air Spectacular." The Blu-ray gives us another look at Blade Ranger's former life as a 1970s television star on the police helicopter action series "CHoPs."

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

The Blu-ray's all-HD bonus features begin with the brand new short Vitaminamulch: Air Spectacular (5:55), which finds Dusty and Chug having to fill in for two beloved daredevil planes at an air show intended to launch the titular new product.

"Welcome to Piston Peak!" (2:49) is an animated short fashioned like an old promotional video about the national park that features in the film.

A "CHoPS" TV promo (0:45) presents an ad for Blade Ranger's action series (an obvious parody of "CHiPs") without interruption. It's pretty true to '70s television.

"Air Attack" gives us a look at some of the courageous real firefighters to whom "Planes: Fire & Rescue" is dedicated. I am hipster: hear me sing! Spencer Lee records "Still I Fly" in this short music video.

In the vein of a bonus feature on the original movie, "Air Attack: Firefighters from the Sky" (4:47) returns producer Farrell Barron and directors Bobs Gannaway to Hemet-Ryan Airport, the Cal Fire air attack base where their research began. Pilots and smoke jumpers employed there discuss their work putting out wildfires (which footage illustrates), while the two filmmakers describe how their research and consultation inspired the film and kept everything authentic.

Two deleted scenes run 4 minutes and 32 seconds with individual intros by Barron and Gannaway. An alternate scene set in the rodeo bar Honkers is crudely animated, while Dusty feeling bad for himself is shown in story reel animatics.

A music video for Spencer Lee's "Still I Fly" (1:31) shows a lot of film clips and a few glimpses of the hipster-hatted, denim-jacketed young musician recording this cut-short, country-flavored song that is sure not to be recognized at next February's Oscars.

Dipper tries online dating in her self-titled bonus short. Dusty flies by on the "Planes: Fire & Rescue" DVD main menu.

Finally, we get two additional animated shorts designed to promote Planes: Fire & Rescue and introduce you to its character. "Dipper" (1:45) provides of that character's descriptive online dating profile,
while "Smoke Jumpers" (1:44) shows off how that team cuts loose, but remains ready to respond to calls to action.

The DVD, the same one sold on its own, only includes Vitaminamulch: Air Spectacular and the Spencer Lee music video, even though it is well under dual-layered capacity.

The discs open with a Disney Movies Anywhere promo and trailers for Big Hero 6, 101 Dalmatians: Diamond Edition, and Frozen: Sing-Along Edition. The Sneak Peeks listing runs ads for Disney Movie Rewards, Disney Store, "Star Wars Rebels", and Maleficent.

The scored menu turns clipboard photos into clips. The Blu-ray remembers where you left off during playback of the film, but doesn't make resuming any easier than that.

The side-snapped standard blue keepcase is topped by an embossed cardboard slipcover. Joining the plain blue and gray discs inside are a Disney Movie Rewards booklet (which provides the set's Digital HD) and an insert advertising Disney Movie Club.

Dusty must be brave when faced with perilous forest fire and a failing gearbox.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Just as unappealing as its predecessor, Planes: Fire & Rescue would probably be easier to accept
as a direct-to-video or television movie. Instead, it demands comparison to its fellow theatrical animation, which these days is pretty terrific at most of the studios. Thus, it is easy to say that this uninspired sequel is a far cry from much of the competition.

Disney's combo pack offers agreeable picture and sound plus a light but suitable supply of bonus features. There's really no good reason to bother with this unless you've really seen all of the many better animated features made over the years and are truly itching to see another talking airplane movie.

Buy Planes: Fire & Rescue from Amazon.com: Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD / DVD / Instant Video

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Reviewed November 17, 2014.



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