PLANES: FIRE & RESCUE (Rated PG)
Disney Studios comes to the rescue for families with kids in a summer movie season filled mostly with adult fare and a fair share of lousy action pictures (think the latest “Transformers”).
Anyone would be hard-pressed to find something objectionable about “Planes: Fire & Rescue” as family entertainment, most especially for impressionable young children under the age of ten.
In true Disney fashion, “Planes” cleverly imagines a fantasy world inhabited only by talking inanimate objects, namely anything motorized, from SUVs and campers, fire trucks and mechanical equipment on wheels, to various types of aircraft.
At the film’s opening, the ostensible star of this adventure comedy is world-famous air racer Dusty Crophopper (voiced by Dane Cook), a spirited single-engine airplane who’s preparing to put on an aerial display of speed and daring stunts during the upcoming Corn Festival.
During a test run, Dusty comes perilously close to his last ride when it is learned that his gearbox is irreparably damaged, thus not allowing him to push his speed to the ultimate racing limit.
Dusty’s not about to return to the crop dusting business, so he looks for a second chance to join a dynamic crew of elite firefighting aircraft devoted to protecting historic Piston Peak National Park from raging wildfire.
But first, Dusty needs to be certified for his new career, and this requires training exercises conducted by hardened veteran fire-and-rescue helicopter Blade Ranger (Ed Harris), who’s not that impressed with his trainee’s celebrity status as a well-known air racer.
Dusty gets a better reception from flirty female air tanker Lil’ Dipper (Julie Bowen), the inscrutable heavy-lift helicopter Windlifter (Wes Studi), ex-military transport Cabbie (Dale Dye), and a lively bunch of brave all-terrain vehicles known as the Smokejumpers.
To be sure, Dusty may be demoralized that his glory days are something of the past, but it is no surprise to any adult that the little airplane that could will have its chance to prove to be heroic.
To push into familiar territory that would allow for acts of valor, the story sets up a bad guy in Cad Spinner (John Michael Higgins), a luxury SUV, who happens to be the Superintendent of Piston Peak fixated on showing off the park’s refurbished old lodge as a great tourist attraction.
Interestingly, Cad Spinner wants to impress his boss, the Secretary of the Interior (Fred Willard), the overseer of the National Parks. Represented by a 1968 Ford Bronco, this rugged outdoorsman does not flaunt his authority, unlike the smarmy park superintendent.
Blade Ranger and his crew are not enamored with the self-centered Park Superintendent, who has been diverting a big chunk for the firefighters’ budget to his lodge restoration project.
Things go wrong on the night of grand opening of Cad Spinner’s beloved old lodge, where the guests include an old married couple, Harvey and Winnie (Jerry Stiller and Anne Meara), two vintage campers wanting to celebrate their 50th anniversary of their honeymoon at Piston Peak.
The beauty of Piston Peak is lovingly advanced by loyal and trustworthy tour bus Ol’ Jammer (Barry Corbin), a gentle old soul who shares his love of the park’s history with a multitude of admiring daily visitors. Ol’ Jammer’s devotion is soon rewarded.
Predictably, a huge wildfire breaks out that threatens the major infrastructure of Piston Peak, putting a lodge full of automotive guests in peril. Naturally, Dusty, the neophyte firefighter, rises to the occasion, putting his own life in danger by exceeding the speed capacity of his gearbox to drop water on the forest flames.
There’s plenty of smoke, fire and water to go with the fast-moving action of “Planes: Fire & Rescue,” resulting in spectacular firefighting scenes that pay appropriate homage to dedicated wildlife firefighters everywhere.
Not surprisingly, this Disney film is lavishly illustrated to achieve a visual fluidity that is enhanced by the 3-D experience. The fire effects are especially dazzling and brightly realized.
A nice touch, mostly for the adults in tow, is the gentle spoof of vintage television. Erik Estrada provides the voice of America’s favorite helicopter cop Nick “Loopin” Lopez, star of CHoPs, a show about two California Helicopter Patrol choppers.
Tim Riley writes film and television reviews for Lake County News.