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‘Planes: Fire & Rescue’: Flying higher than the animated original

Off racing circuit Dusty Crophopper (left with voice Dane Cook) trains fight fires under tutelage perfectionist helicopter Blade Ranger (Ed

Off the racing circuit, Dusty Crophopper (left, with the voice of Dane Cook) trains to fight fires under the tutelage of the perfectionist helicopter Blade Ranger (Ed Harris) in “Planes: Fire & Rescue.” | DISNEY

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‘PLANES: FIRE
& rescue’ ★★★

With the voices of:

Dusty Dane Cook

Dipper Julie Bowen

Blade Ranger Ed Harris

Windlifter Wes Studi

Disney presents a film directed by Bobs Gannaway and written by Gannaway and Jeffrey M. Howard. Running time: 83 minutes. Rated PG (for action and some peril). Opens Friday at local theaters.

Updated: August 19, 2014 6:14AM



Y ou’d think it would be fairly easy to make a sequel better than the original, especially when the first film was pretty lame. Sadly, that’s often not the case.

The good news here: “Planes: Fire & Rescue” is a good improvement over “Planes,” which Disney released last year. The story is stronger, there are some wonderful additions to the voice talent and the 3D cinematography is well-utilized.

“Fire & Rescue” picks up pretty much where the original movie left off. Dusty Crophopper (again charmingly and enthusiastically voiced by Dane Cook) is now an international air-racing hero. After his hard-to-believe win of the around-the-world championship in the first film, Dusty went on to win numerous other titles and has become the most important plane in his adoring home airport base and town.

However, the increasingly self-absorbed Dusty suddenly hits a life-changing challenge when he encounters what he thinks is minor engine trouble during a routine training flight with his mentor, Skipper (Stacy Keach).

Back at the hangar, Dusty gets the frightening news from his longtime four-wheeled mechanic Dottie (Teri Hatcher): His gearbox is shot, and since it’s a model that is now out of production, Dusty’s racing days are over. He no longer can push past the limits when it comes to speed.

When a fire breaks out at the airport, it leads to the discovery that the aging fire truck Mayday (voiced with appropriate fustiness by Hal Holbrook) no longer is up to the job. The disaster brings in the feds, who decide that without the addition of a second firetruck — and a major upgrade of Mayday — the airport must be shut down indefinitely.

Dusty senses a new opportunity. If he can’t race, he can become a flying firefighter, able to zoom in on potential airport blazes and dump flame retardants to save the day.

Dusty is dispatched to train with the forest firefighting airborne team, based at a Yellowstone/Yosemite-type national park out west. Once again, Dusty overcomes a series of obstacles and struggles to gain respect, new abilities and a bunch of new pals out at the park.

Some of the film’s best visuals are those showcasing pretty spectacular fires and swooping through canyons and over roaring and cascading rivers and waterfalls in the national park.

We are introduced to a number of very engaging new characters, including the demanding perfectionist Blade Ranger (Ed Harris) and the gushing, flirty air tanker Dipper, a starstruck fan of Dusty and his racing exploits. Julie Bowen is hilarious voicing Dipper and adds a fun note to the overall voice cast.

Another standout is John Michael Higgins, spot-on perfect as Cad, the fast-talking, self-centered national park superintendent — more interested in boosting his career, opening the park’s recently remodeled posh hotel and hobnobbing with celebrities than he is in protecting the natural assets under his control.

As was the case with the “Cars” franchise and the first “Planes” movie, you have to suspend a lot of logical thinking to accept the anthropomorphic world these motorized creations “live” in. However, in this second “Planes,” that’s much easier to do. The filmmakers have made it all so, well, believable — even though a little voice in the back of our brain keeps going, “This is just a bit too fantastical!”

For the little kids for whom this film is targeted, that’s just fine. It’s all good fun, with some nice lessons about friendship, loyalty and doing the right thing thrown in for good measure.

Email: bzwecker@suntimes.com

Twitter: @billzwecker



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