Having won last year’s Wings Around the Globe Rally, Dusty Crophopper (Dane Cook) has turned into an overnight sensation. The more races he wins, the more popular he becomes. However, after a routine stunt breaks a rare part to his engine, Dusty is forced to consider retiring from racing altogether. In addition, when an accidental fire reveals that Propwash Junction doesn’t meet current safety standards, their small town is forced to search for an additional rescue vehicle in order to stay open. With his own future in question, Dusty volunteers to be certified and joins a team of fire fighters at Piston Peak to be trained. As he is challenged by their gruff crew chief Blade Ranger (Ed Harris), Dusty begins to learn the value of sacrifice and what it means to be a true hero.
Admittedly, the Planes franchise is certainly built mostly around merchandising. Accused of playing out like a lighter version of Cars (and rightly so), the first film focused primarily on Dusty’s dream of being a racer in the face of adversity. Originally designed as a ‘straight-to-video’ release, Disney felt they had enough of a film to release on the big screen—and sell tons of toy planes along the way. Still, in their second outing, Planes: Fire andRescue manages to bring something distinctly more dramatic to the franchise.
Opening with a dedication to those brave men and women who risk their lives fighting fires, Planes: Fire and Rescue does carry with it a sense of urgency. Rather than the playfulness of a race around the world, Dusty is now faced with genuine risk both for his own safety and that of others. “When other planes fly out, they fly in,” handyman Sparky remarks about Dusty’s new team. Whereas the first film emphasizes the glory of winning the ‘big race’, Fire and Rescue connects true honor with risking one’s life for another person. (In fact, the film’s primary villain is most guilty of serving his own ego, primarily seeking fame and recognition at the expense of the safety of others.)
In addition to this, the film also battles with issues of identity when tied to success as well. For example, by taking away Dusty’s ability to race, the film places him into the middle of an (kid-friendly) existential crisis. All of a sudden, he’s left to ask who he is if he can’t do what he loves most? Although he takes his certification process very seriously, he also does so with the belief that he’ll one day be able to return to racing and, as a result, actually causes strain on his fire safety training. The more tightly he holds onto what he wants, the more difficult it is for him to move forward. Only after Dusty releases his dream can he truly begin his journey as a firefighter. (Although, to be fair, [spoiler alert] his dream also returns to him at the end.)
As a Christian, I sense a strong duality of the nature of sacrifice in this film. First and foremost is the obvious sense of physical sacrifice on behalf of another. As Blade Ranger, Windlifter and the rest of the team throw themselves into the fiery furnace, they do so knowing that every mission could be their last. “If you give up today, think of all the people you won’t save tomorrow,” Blade sermonizes. There is a steadfastness to their commitment and a bravery in these characters that trumps anything in the first film. (Really? Can you even compare a message like that to the ‘wisdom’ of El Chupacabra?) Theirs is a sacrifice that few are willing to make – a truly, Christ-like sacrifice for the lives of others.
However, having said this, there is also another form of sacrifice at play in this film. There is a sacrifice for calling as well. In order for Dusty to truly become the plane that he is being called to be, he must be willing to sacrifice what he wants. So often, as we journey with God, we hold on to things tightly when He invites us to loosen our grip. As with Dusty, there are times when we receive these dreams again. Still, there is freedom in trusting God with our lives and circumstances in a way that allows us to be changed by Him as well.
Is Planes: Fire and Rescue an instant Disney classic? No, I’m afraid not. However, there’s enough insight and depth to the characters in this film that it opens the door for tremendous spiritual conversations with children afterwards.
And hey, they’ll likely sell tons of toys along the way.
Planes: Fire and Rescue
Starring Dane Cook, Ed Harris
*** out of 5