Disney’s animated tale “Planes: Fire & Rescue” boasts some of the most breathtaking visuals that computer animation can deliver — matched to a story so generic it could have been written by a computer.
This second installment of the “Planes” franchise reintroduces audiences to our hero, Dusty Crophopper (voiced by Dane Cook). The former cropduster-turned-racing star is having the time of his life, until his gearbox is damaged.
The bad news gets worse when his crew chief, Dottie (voiced by Teri Hatcher), tells him his gearbox is out of production — and if he pushes his engine too hard, he’ll crash. (It’s the airplane equivalent of telling Rocky Balboa he’ll die if he takes another punch.)
There’s worse news for Dusty’s hometown, Propwash Junction. Safety officials decide that Mayday (voiced by Hal Holbrook), the old fire engine at the town’s airport, isn’t up to the job. Until he’s refurbished, and a second firefighting vehicle is hired, the airport will be shut down — just as the town’s annual Corn Fest is about to start.
Dusty volunteers to become certified as an aerial firefighter. He flies to Piston Peak National Park to train with the wildfire crews led by Blade Ranger (voiced by Ed Harris), a no-nonsense helicopter who thinks Dusty’s not tough enough for the job.
Dusty must prove himself during the park’s peak wildfire season. Compounding the fire crew’s worries is the park superintendent, an Escalade voiced by John Michael Higgins, who — in a plot twist reminiscent of “The Towering Inferno” and a dozen other ’70s disaster films — is diverting the park’s firefighting budget toward his fancy new lodge.
The new movie, the second in a franchise spun off from Pixar’s “Cars” films and produced by Disney’s lower-budget DisneyToon Studios, serves up an array of new characters on Blade’s crew — including the lovelorn water-dropping plane Dipper (voiced by Julie Bowen) and the American Indian cargo helicopter Wind Lifter (voiced by Wes Studi). The characters don’t have a lot of personality and seem to be created mostly as fodder for the toy shelves.
Director Bobs Gannaway marshals the animation well, particularly in wildfire action sequences that are dynamic and, for kids, maybe a little frightening. It’s just too bad that in “Planes: Fire & Rescue,” too much of the story is just warmed-over elements of other movies.
‘Planes: Fire & Rescue’
Plucky plane Dusty Crophopper is back, this time learning to fight wildfires, in a story with too many recycled elements.
Where • Theaters everywhere.
When • Opens today.
Rating • PG for action and some peril.
Running time • 83 minutes.