Anthropomorphizing automobiles, trains, ships and planes has become a Disney specialty. This time, the comedic adventure is set in a western wilderness area known as Piston Peak National Park.
When the plucky, single-engine prop plane known as Dusty Crophopper (voiced by comedian Dane Cook) discovers that his once-trusty gear box is wearing out, it's just as he's preparing for the fabled Corn Fest. When he realizes that there's no available replacement for his kind of older model, he's crushed.
After a couple of foolhardy escapades that endanger not only himself but also others, he decides to leave the racing circuit to become a certified firefighter and join stern, no-nonsense Blade Ranger (voiced by Ed Harris) and his over-the-hill aircraft squadron.
The Smokejumper team includes the feisty air tanker Lil' Dipper (voiced by Julie Bowen from TV's "Modern Family"), the heavy-load helicopter Windlifter (voiced by Wes Studi), the ex-military transport Cabbie (voiced by Capt. Dale Dye) and the folksy, vintage fire truck Mayday (voiced by Hal Holbrook), cursing "Oh, Chevy!" So when an out-of-control wildfire threatens a newly reopened luxury hotel, Grand Fusel Lodge, that's filled with tourists, they predictably swing into heroic action, and Dusty learns how to be a team player.
Generically scripted with sadly stereotypical sexism by director Bobs Gannaway and his co-writer Jeffrey M. Howard, it reworks "The Little Engine That Could" with touches of "Thomas the Tank Engine." To achieve a kind of surreal believability, the animators put eyes on the vehicles' windscreens and mouths in the vent space beneath the propellers -- and the resulting visuals are stunning, particularly in 3D.
Soaring far over the head of its intended audience, there's an extended parody of the old TV show "CHiPs," dubbed "CHoPs," which obviously is intended to amuse the parents who have accompanied their children, along with rueful lines like, "She left me for a hybrid. I didn't hear it coming."
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Planes: Fire & Rescue" is a spiraling 6, aimed primarily at boys from 4 to 8 years old.