'Planes: Fire and Rescue' Is a Reminder of Disney's Live Action Past

A long time ago, Disney wanted to bring a bit of excitement into a kid's entertainment world. Planes: Fire and Rescue revisits that idea, and succeeds.

Planes: Fire and Rescue

Director: Roberts Gannaway
Cast: Dane Cook, Ed Harris, Julie Bowen, Wes Studi, Dale Dye, John Michael Higgins, Regina King, Bryan Callen, Hal Holbrook, Teri Hatcher, Brad Garrett
Rated: PG
Studio: Walt Disney Pictures
Year: 2014
US date: 2014-07-18 (General release)
UK date: 2014-07-18 (General release)

There was a time, at least 50 years ago, when Disney took as much care with its live action films as its did with its animation. While these titles could never live up to the breathtaking artistic breakthroughs being made by their pen and ink masterworks, Disney still managed to craft family entertainment without resorting to ridiculous contrivances or obvious audience pandering. It all began with an adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson's classic Treasure Island, and flourished with efforts like 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and Swiss Family Robertson. There was even some unheralded excellence buried among the goofball comedies (The Shaggy Dog) and oddball entries (Greyfriar's Bobby? Seriously).

One such film was In Search of the Castaways. It featured Maurice Chevalier, '60s House of Mouse staple Haley Mills, and George Stevens' take on another Jules Verne novel, Captain Grant's Children. It had intrigue and danger, and a sensational sequence where our heroes hurtle down a mountainside on part of an outcropping, the result of a sudden earthquake. There's also a giant condor, a horrible flood, and, of course, a volcano. While the special effects are ancient by today's standards, studio savant Robert Stevenson directed the heck out of the material (as he did throughout his tenure while working for Uncle Walt) and the overall result is thrilling in a very safe eight-to-80 kind of way.

The same can be said for Disney's latest foray into mass merchandizing, Planes: Fire and Rescue. This unlikely CG franchise, piggybacked off the undeniable success of the Cars brand (it's the company's number one product tie-in), but Planes started off badly. In the name of ethnic diversity, Planes erroneously used horrid stereotypes and obvious voice acting to make it very clear that its central hero was a squeaky clean "Amurican" while the rest of the aircraft planet was a collection of racial clichés. You could practically feel the filmmakers struggling to find moments when they could jumpstart the superpower celebrations with chants of "U-S-A!, U-S-A!, U-S-A!"

Planes: Fire and Rescue rejects all that nonsense and instead chooses to return to the days of Saturday matinee thrills. Yes, the obnoxious Dusty Crophopper (Dane Cook) is back, but this time he's been forced to retire from the competition circuit due to a bad gearbox. When his hometown is hit with a series of safety violations, our single engined hero decides to train as a member of the Piston Peak National Park's firefighting service. There, he meets up with leader (and rescue helicopter) Blade Ranger (Ed Harris) as well as the fire retardant crew of Lil' Dipper (Julie Bowen), Windlifter (Wes Studi), and Cabbie (Dale Dye). There's also a group of ground obstruction clearers known as The Smokejumpers (voices of Regina King, Corri English, Bryan Callen, Danny Pardo, and Matt Jones).

Of course, every set-up needs a scenario to work within, and wouldn't you know it, arrogant Park Superintendent Cad Spinner (John Michael Higgins) is reopening the fabled Grand Fusel Lodge to much VIP fanfare. When a fire breaks out nearby, it's up to Dusty and his pals to put out the blaze and save the multitude of machines in attendance for the special shindig. Along the way, our arrogant lead must learn teamwork, control, duty, and a bit of humility, all while desperately hoping that his pals back home, including Mayday (Hal Holbrook), Dottie (Teri Hatcher), and Chug (Brad Garrett) can find him a new gearbox and get him back into the race.

When you consider how inept and sloppy Planes was from a storytelling and characterization standpoint, Planes: Fire and Rescue is a significant step up. It's not great. It still suffers from targeting a sixth grade and under mentality, but at least its heart is in the right place. Dedicated to firefighters everywhere, the movie makes it very clear that these brave individuals -- or in this case, aircraft -- are the last line of defense in the wake of a massive natural disaster such as a forest fire. They go in as everyone is running out, as they say.

Dusty doesn't get this at first, but he doesn't act like the spoiled entitled brat he was in the first film, either. Instead, he gets the gravitas of his new career choice and eventually learns to embrace it.

Equally impressive is this film's desire to dump the creaky cultural slanders of previous characterizations to make these new machines more generic, and therefore less troubling (well, all except Wes Studi's soft-spoken Native American transport copter). By using the whole firefighting angle, director Roberts Gannaway and his animators have a chance to truly shine.

The sequences where Dusty and his pals fly into these massive infernos are breathtaking in their scope and detail. These moments embrace the emphasis on action from the House of Mouse's past while providing contemporary thrills for viewers that are way too young to remember when Disney did this kind of thing.

Of course, this means adults are more or less left out of the mix, though a few might get a chuckle out of a mid-point backstory involving Harris' Blade, his temporary TV stardom, and a callback to a famous "highway patrol cop show" from the '80s. It's a hilarious homage, one that will soar a million miles over the heads of the intended audience. Indeed, it's nice to know that Planes: Fire and Rescue is looking out for those parents forced to sit and watch with their children. Still, this movie just can't shake the feeling of being a 85-minute commercial for the upcoming toy line and the accompanying holiday gift-giving season.

Cars has been responsible for nearly $8 billion in global sales. If Planes can do a portion of those profits, we'll be seeing more of Dusty and his airborne pals. The one thing Disney isn't shy about is making money. It owns Marvel, a certain sci-fi franchise known as Star Wars, and has a huge catalog of animated classics to call upon whenever a special edition Blu-ray release is needed.

Something like Planes: Fire and Rescue is minor House of Mouse at best, but at least we're seeing an overall improvement. A long time ago, Disney wanted to bring a bit of excitment into a kid's entertainment world. Planes: Fire and Rescue revisits that idea, and succeeds.


From drunken masters to rumbles in the Bronx, Jackie Chan's career is chock full of goofs and kicks. These ten films capture what makes Chan so magnetic.

Jackie Chan got his first film role way back in 1976, when a rival producer hired him for his obvious action prowess. Now, nearly 40 years later, he is more than a household name. He's a brand, a signature star with an equally recognizable onscreen persona. For many, he was their introduction into the world of Hong Kong cinema. For others, he's the goofy guy speaking broken English to Chris Tucker in the Rush Hour films.

From his grasp of physical comedy to his fearlessness in the face of certain death (until recently, Chan performed all of his own stunts) he's a one of a kind talent whose taken his abilities in directions both reasonable (charity work, political reform) and ridiculous (have your heard about his singing career?).

Now, Chan is back, bringing the latest installment in the long running Police Story franchise to Western shores (subtitled Lockdown, it's been around since 2013), and with it, a reminder of his multifaceted abilities. He's not just an actor. He's also a stunt coordinator and choreographer, a writer, a director, and most importantly, a ceaseless supporter of his country's cinema. With nearly four decades under his (black) belt, it's time to consider Chan's creative cannon. Below you will find our choices for the ten best pictures Jackie Chan's career, everything from the crazy to the classic. While he stuck to formula most of the time, no one made redundancy seem like original spectacle better than he.

Let's start with an oldie but goodie:

10. Operation Condor (Armour of God 2)

Two years after the final pre-Crystal Skull installment of the Indiana Jones films arrived in theaters, Chan was jumping on the adventurer/explorer bandwagon with this wonderful piece of movie mimicry. At the time, it was one of the most expensive Hong Kong movies ever made ($115 million, which translates to about $15 million American). Taking the character of Asian Hawk and turning him into more of a comedic figure would be the way in which Chan expanded his global reach, realizing that humor could help bring people to his otherwise over the top and carefully choreographed fight films -- and it's obviously worked.

9. Wheels on Meals

They are like the Three Stooges of Hong Kong action comedies, a combination so successful that it's amazing they never caught on around the world. Chan, along with director/writer/fight coordinator/actor Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao, all met at the Peking Opera, where they studied martial arts and acrobatics. They then began making movies, including this hilarious romp involving a food truck, a mysterious woman, and lots of physical shtick. While some prefer their other collaborations (Project A, Lucky Stars), this is their most unabashedly silly and fun. Hung remains one of the most underrated directors in all of the genre.

8. Mr. Nice Guy
Sammo Hung is behind the lens again, this time dealing with Chan's genial chef and a missing mob tape. Basically, an investigative journalist films something she shouldn't, the footage gets mixed up with some of our heroes, and a collection of clever cat and mouse chases ensue. Perhaps one of the best sequences in all of Chan's career occurs in a mall, when a bunch of bad guys come calling to interrupt a cooking demonstration. Most fans have never seen the original film. When New Line picked it up for distribution, it made several editorial and creative cuts. A Japanese release contains the only unaltered version of the effort.

7. Who Am I?

Amnesia. An easy comedic concept, right? Well, leave it to our lead and collaborator Benny Chan (no relation) to take this idea and go crazy with it. The title refers to Chan's post-trauma illness, as well as the name given to him by natives who come across his confused persona. Soon, everyone is referring to our hero by the oddball moniker while major league action set pieces fly by. While Chan is clearly capable of dealing with the demands of physical comedy and slapstick, this is one of the rare occasions when the laughs come from character, not just chaos.

6. Rumble in the Bronx

For many, this was the movie that broke Chan into the US mainstream. Sure, before then, he was a favorite of film fans with access to a video store stocking his foreign titles, but this is the effort that got the attention of Joe and Jane Six Pack. Naturally, as they did with almost all his films, New Line reconfigured it for a domestic audience, and found itself with a huge hit on its hands. Chan purists prefer the original cut, including the cast voices sans dubbing. It was thanks to Rumble that Chan would go on to have a lengthy run in Tinseltown, including those annoying Rush Hour films.

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