At least we can breathe a sigh of relief that Pixar wasn't involved with the production of Planes: Fire and Rescue, as well as last year's Planes. Even though Pixar's responsible for creating Cars and kick-starting the annoyingly whimsical "Anthropomorphic transportation" craze that's racked over a billion dollars so far in merchandizing alone, the mediocre continuation of the series is now handled exclusively by Disney.
Not that Pixar's current reputation as the studio that constantly pushes the boundaries of animation to the next level is as impressive as it used to be five years ago. After the hat trick of three bona fide animation masterpieces back-to-back, Pixar bowed down to pressure from Disney to start producing sequels to their bigger hits.
Sure, Toy Story 3 was surprisingly good and Monsters University was a great time, but none of them became instant classics the way Ratatouille, Wall-E and Up were. In 2014, Pixar took a year off from releasing an animated feature, perhaps to do some soul-searching. Next year, they're coming back with an original project, Inside Out, which shows a lot of promise.
Meanwhile, Disney's taken over the production of any Cars spinoffs. After last year's barely straight-to-home video Cars spin-off Planes (Original concept, isn't it?) was a big hit, Disney immediately rushed a sequel. The many possible time constraints that plagued the production are obvious in every frame.
In order to reach the film's release date, the screenplay looks like it was slapped together over a weekend, the animation would have been top-notch for a straight-to-video release but underwhelms for a theatrical outing, and some of the voice-acting is subpar and uninspired (I'm looking at you, Ed Harris). Disney must be aware of these films' straight-to-video potential, the gap between their theatrical and home video releases are very short.
The sequel finds the racer plane Dusty Crophopper (A character as bland as the "comedian" who provides his voice, Dane Cook) unable to race because of a faulty gearbox. Desperate to help his town with their fire fighter shortage, Dusty decides to train to become a fire plane. From this point on, Disney copy-pastes the screenplay from the first Cars, replaces every mention of a car with the word "plane" and calls it a day.
All of the elements from the first Cars are here, this time with lazier writing and pandering to kids' obsession with bodily functions in order to get cheap laughs (the first ten minutes had at least five fart jokes). You know the drill, the star with the big ego gets stuck with a bunch of selfless, blue-collar collar types, as well as a crotchety old role model who doesn't think the hero's got what it takes (Paul Newman in Cars, Ed Harris in Planes: Fire and Rescue). What are the odds that by the end, the star lets go of his ego, commits 110% to save the day and gains the respect of his new friends?
If Planes: Fire and Rescue was released ten years ago, it would have looked spectacular. But now, it barely passes as a theatrical release. To be fair, the many backdrops depicting open nature look gorgeous, but the animation lacks the astounding detail of many Pixar films. The 1080p transfer is clear and very colorful. At least the kids should be appropriately distracted, which seems to be the point anyway.
The 7.1 DTS-HD track surprisingly lacks a strong surround mix, dynamic range, or much of a surround presence. For a film that's wall-to-wall plane and helicopter sounds and long set pieces surround firefights, this is a bafflingly subdued audio presentation. Perhaps the Blu-Ray transfer was handled this way so that parents wouldn't have to meddle with the volume every five minutes, since dialogue, sfx and music all have pretty much on the same level. I'd be curious to find out how the theatrical experience would have compared.
Vitaminamulch: This is a five-minute short about how a nasty mulch screws up an air show. Just like the feature, cute but forgettable.
Welcome to Piston Peak: A 2-minute "vintage promotional film" about the national forest that the fire planes protect in the film.
CHoPs TV Promo: A very brief promo for a TV cop show Ed Harris' character Blade Ranger was supposedly involved in.
Air Attack: A five-minute featurette about the filmmakers meeting the real plane rescue workers.
Deleted Scenes: About 4 minutes of unremarkable deleted material, introduced by the director and the producer.
Animated Shorts: Brief promos introducing some of the characters.
We also get a Music Video and Trailers for other Disney releases. The package also comes with a DVD and digital copy. The DVD looks as amazing as a standard definition transfer can get while upconverted on a small HDTV.
As much as I criticize Planes: Fire and Rescue, it's inoffensive and passable. There's nothing really special about it, but there isn't anything completely objectionable either. It's made strictly for young children, with a couple of jokes for adults to chuckle at. "My girlfriend left me for a hybrid, I didn't even hear him coming" is as sophisticated as that gets.