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Non-Review Review: Planes 2 – Fire and Rescue

It’s the eyes.

When computer-generated animation first emerged, the hardest part was the eyes. Figures could be rendered in a completely photo-realistic fashion, right down to individual strands of hair, but the eyes were always a problem. If the eyes weren’t right, the animated characters – no matter how thoroughly rendered – inevitably felt like they were beckoning us into the uncanny value. The opposite was also true; cartoonish figures and inanimate objects could be imbued with incredible humanity if the eyes were right.

All fired up...

All fired up…

The computer-generated animation in Planes 2: Fire and Rescue is certain competent. It is not cutting edge, but computer-generated animation has reached a point where it doesn’t have to be cutting edge to work effectively. There are action sequences, there is physical comedy, there are stylised insets. While Planes 2: Fire and Rescue doesn’t break new ground, it is relatively polished.

However, it’s the eyes. A stylised decision in keeping with the world established in Cars, the planes have eyes that look like two-dimensional drawings on the windscreen. It’s a very simple representation of the eyes. It is also a decision that undoubtedly makes them a lot more toyetic. The planes can move their wipers and control the height and width of their windscreens to generate all sorts of exaggerated expression. However, the eyes never seem more than stickers, unable to convey depth or nuance.

Flying so low...

Flying so low…

It seems a bit pointless to describe Planes 2: Fire and Rescue as a cynical effort. It is a sequel to a spin-off to a sequel to the most toyetic of Pixar’s feature films. The fact that the movie was one of the least well-received of the original Pixar films does not factor into the decision. Cars sold well to kids, and helped to sell a lot of merchandise. As a result, it makes sense that the studio would try to capitalise on that by producing sequels and spin-offs and tie-ins.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with this. It is the movie industry, after all. Companies exist to stay in business, and there is a financial responsibility that exists to stakeholds. Besides, while it’s easy to be cynical about sequels and spin-offs and remakes, it is also worth noting that they can work quite well on their own terms. This year, for examples, it seems quite likely that everyone found something to love among a summer slate packed with sequels and reboots and spin-offs.

Radio nowhere...

Radio nowhere…

The problem is that everything about Planes 2: Fire and Rescue feels so generic and so perfunctory. There’s a sense that the movie is going through the motions rather than doing anything particularly exciting. Half-way through the film, Dusty gets his landing gear removed and replaced with water scoops. You can rest assured that there will be a toy on the shelves featuring that handy upgrade.

Planes 2: Fire and Rescue opens with a dedication to all the hard-working fire-fighters who risk their lives to save people. It is an absolutely incredible job to do, putting one’s life in danger to assist another human being. However, Planes 2: Fire and Rescue never conveys that through anything beyond stock clichés and trite exposition. Like a forest fire itself, everything that happens in Planes 2: Fire and Rescue follows the path of least resistance.

Refill...

Refill…

Of course Dusty meets a new ensemble of supporting characters for the sequel, all of which are stereotypically “quirky” in ways that border on offensive – of course the Native American is spiritual! of course the woman has a crush on Dusty and doesn’t respect boundaries! Of course Dusty meets a tough-but-fair supervisor who is initially quite rough on him but subsequently comes to respect our plucky hero.

Of course that gruff supervisor has a handy secret in his past that conveniently explains his gruff attitude, because there’s no way he could just be a jerk or his harsh treatment could be reasonable training procedure. Of course there’s an administrator more interested in politics than safety who makes the situation worse for our heroes, indirectly and then directly. Of course there’s a epic big fire at the climax where Dusty must prove his worth and conquer his fears.

Plane sailing...

Plane sailing…

All of these are logical developments and plot points for a sequel to Planes with the subtitle Fire and Rescue. The problem is that there is precious little else here to support a theatrical release. Plane 2: Fire and Rescue would make a passable television movie, or even a direct-to-DVD-or-digital release. However, there simply isn’t enough meat here to sustain Planes 2: Fire and Rescue for its full runtime.

The characters don’t feel like characters. They seem like crudely-drawn archetypes. The eyes that lend themselves to comical exaggeration do not serve character development particularly well – when the movie aims to hit those necessary emotional beats with laboured confessions and admissions, it is very difficult to take these planes seriously. Much of the movie feels like padding and stalling, as if the creative team are waiting to hit a point where they can bring the curtain down and call it a day.

Blades of glory...

Blades of glory…

Planes 2: Fire and Rescue is functional. That is perhaps the best thing that can be said about it.

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