Label: Buena Vista Home Entertainment
Release Date: November 4, 2014
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Film: D / Video: B+ / Audio: B+ / Extras: C-
One of the joys to be had in watching Planes: Fire and Rescue, and there are unsurprisingly very few, is in realizing that Fred Willard and John Michael Higgins, both of the Christopher Guest stable of improvisers, have a reunion of sorts as the Secretary of the Interior & a selfish and greedy hotelier, respectively. The recognition of Willard, Higgins, and so many other well-known actors making brief aural appearances here, on the whole, is gratifying for a second here or there. But, it’s also a bit hard not to shout at your TV screen to these fine performers, as Willard did in A Mighty Wind, “Hey! Wha’ happened?” We should ask the same of other franchise newcomers like Ed Harris, Regina King, and Hal Holbrook. If such talented actors had to resort to appearing in a sequel to a spinoff originally slated as a direct-to-DVD release to make something their kids or grandkids could enjoy, shame on Hollywood for not knocking on their doors earlier. (And shame on the makers of this film for having Holbrook say “Ka-CHOW!”, Lightning McQueen-style.)
As many critics (including yours truly) acknowledged over the summer, Planes: Fire and Rescue is an improvement on its predecessor; this is, however, not a compliment. Both films share many similarities with each other as well as with Cars, the film that started this insane, illogical universe. Yet the second Planes is far duller than it should be, with one non-firefighting sequence as the exception. Both films manage to copy the “Brash young up-and-comer learns humility at the hands of a grizzled old veteran with a dark past” trope that Cars employed, to maddeningly misguided ends. The first mentor of our hero, Dusty Crophopper, feels guilt for the death of a handful of rookie planes in the Battle of Guadalcanal, which means that World War II actually happened in this series, because why the hell not. Dusty’s second mentor feels guilt for the death of his partner during the time when he was a co-lead of a 70s-styled cop show called CHoPs. His partner is voiced by Erik Estrada. (All of this is true.)
Certainly, the visuals in Planes: Fire and Rescue are a cut above what you might expect from DisneyToon Studios, which was originally known for generally unfortunate and painful direct-to-video sequels such as The Return of Jafar and Cinderella II: Dreams Come True. For whatever reason, the studio’s computer-animated output has not had a similarly drab and unpleasant look. For better or worse, both Planes films do a decent enough job of replicating the so-called “world of Cars.” Neither film, even this more earnest take on firefighters, is able to find character-based inspiration within that world, however. These movies have attracted an overabundance of qualified actors, and they don’t look unappealing. But Planes: Fire and Rescue is better than its predecessor simply because it’s not inadvertently offensive, a miniscule bit of praise indeed.
As mentioned above, the design of Planes: Fire and Rescue is adequate enough, at least in terms of recreating the world of Cars to a degree that wouldn’t put off even the least discerning of viewers. The Blu-ray for the film isn’t particularly remarkable in terms of transferring over the audio and video, but it does the job well. The visual element is slightly more of a standout, especially in the colorful and lush take on the U.S. National Parks where the majority of the second half takes place. There’s nothing to be blown away by, but as with most Blu-rays of new Disney movies, the transfer is solid on the whole.
If there’s anything even remotely worth noting about the special features on this Blu-ray, it’s that one of them is sold in slightly misleadling language. The “deleted scenes” are really just a single extended scene that’s been split in two. (This, in spite of the fact that the first of two scenes is almost entirely present in the finished product, thus making it the opposite of a deleted scene.) Elsewhere, there’s little of note, including a short that’s built around a farcical setup where Dane Cook’s Dusty Crophopper has to replace an Evel Knievel-style plane and perform a wild act of derring-do. (The phrase “Dane Cook’s Dusty Crophopper” sounds awfully nasty, doesn’t it?) There’s also a 5-minute video where the director and producer of the film extol the virtues of human firefighters, in the most respectful, well-intentioned and tone-deaf way possible. None of the supplements are substantial enough to recommend, but then, would anyone expect the supplements on a Planes: Fire and Rescue Blu-ray to be substantial?
Planes: Fire and Rescue is, at best, a way to hopefully distract your child for 80 minutes. (84 if they stick through the end credits.) Its Blu-ray predictably doesn’t soar past that potential. (What? Let me have one pun.)