Planes: Fire & Rescue is a direct sequel to the first 2013 movie but it still features the same character. Our lead character has quite a diverse career of sorts given he started as a crop-duster, managed to prove himself as a racer, and here tries to get into the daring world of fighting fires.
Admittedly it feels like this story was a bit of a stretch in terms of trying to use existing characters in a sequel that probably didn't need to be created, especially so quickly after the first movie. But hey, the movie already happened so we just roll with the punches and talk about what we actually watched as opposed to what we hoped to have been created in its place.
Synopsis: Planes: Fire & Rescue is a 2014 animated sequel to the 2013 movie Planes. The movie was directed by Roberts Gannaway with a screenplay by Bobs Gannaway and Jeffrey M. Howard.
Our hero Dusty Crophopper (Dane Cook) has continued on to a successful career in racing after winning the Wings Around the Globe race in the first movie. But his continued flying has resulted in damage in his gearbox and it seems no replacements are available. Thus he's no longer able to race since exerting himself may result in additional damage that may prove catastrophic for him.
An accidental fire at the old airport results in a government inspection and the threat of the airport being condemned unless they bring things up to code. And in this case sole fire truck represents insufficient firefighting equipment in case of such incidents. Dusty then offers to train to be a firefighter in order to bring the airport into compliance and prevent its closure. Thus he travels to Piston Peak National Park in order to train with the fire and rescue team there.
I'll take a moment to get this off my chest - the whole Cars / Planes universe really doesn't make sense to me since the vehicles are the dominant species, if you will. We'll never understand why they seem to be designed to accommodate human passengers that seemingly do not exist - I guess having a cockpit is merely traditional. Cue one of those internet theories about how the Cars universe takes place in some far off post-human future.
Getting that out of the way, the plot feels a little thin at first as one bad thing leads to another until we have Dusty forcing himself to learn to be a firefighter since his racing career is over. It's a bit of a downer given all his struggles in the first movie to surpass the expectations of his design in order to become a racer but only to be denied by some damaged gearbox with no replacement. It's the sort of start to a movie that feels like a way to force the protagonist into a new status quo through lazy writing. And I expect more from Disney these days - we can do so much better than this.
Thus we have another movie of Dusty learning from more senior folks in a near repeat of the first movie. Sure there are more characters involved in the training this time and we have weird fan girl flirting going on as well. But then we also have Dusty hiding the truth of his condition, which I don't see why that was necessary since it certainly had a significant impact on his training. If we translate this into a human analogy, would you not mention that you have a heart condition when you're joining a role that is physically demanding? I feel like the indirect message is a little irresponsible here.
The story has a lot of holes like these, so I guess you're just better off enjoying the animation quality, which remains pretty stellar. And given how we see forest fires and various training drills for dropping water on target, there's a lot of animation eye candy to enjoy for sure. And if the pretty stuff could make up for the other stuff, then great. But that's not quite the case.
There's also this weird side angle about resources being reallocated for a particular lodge that is a clear example of corruption in government. Naturally it becomes a problem later in the movie, but it never builds up to true "antagonist" problem levels. In fact, the long-term resolution for this item is never all that clear, nor does it apparently matter in the long run. It's just a weird hiccup of a side plot that got stretched a little to long just to give the movie the sense of someone to be made at.
I know it sounds like I'm coming down a little hard on this movie, but I really think this could have been more thought-out. Instead, Planes: Fire & Rescue felt like a rushed sequel that borrowed a lot of elements from prior Disney and Pixar movies but didn't ultimately do something special or novel with it. So the movie only really gets 2.5 sad twists of fate for Dusty out of a possible 5.