...shining light on the media, one review at a time
Which is better, to be rich and famous, to do what you love, or to save lives? The answer may seem obvious, and yet how many people in our culture actually choose their career, what to do with their lives, based on the noble aspiration of wanting to save lives? Generally, achieving “success” by becoming rich and famous or, at best, a desire to do what one loves become the primary motives in pursuing a career.
Yet, thankfully, there are still some special individuals who are willing to dedicate themselves to saving lives, even at risk of their own. Planes 2: Fire & Rescue reveals the world of such brave, vital people while communicating the counter-cultural message that true heroes are not among the rich and famous, but rather among the unsung, underpaid few who sacrificially put others before themselves.
With a dousing of negative content burning a fiery trail through the movie, however, more than a positive theme may be needed to rescue this film.
Dusty Crophopper finally has it all. His remarkable leap from crop duster to air racing legend has made Dusty one happy plane. With a crew made up of good friends and his own determination behind him, more wins and increased fame seem guaranteed. Then the expectations crash.
The crash is almost literal, as Dusty’s engine stops running on a stunt and he plunges from the air. The engine kicks in again just in time, but the incident isn’t just a fluke as Dusty hopes. His mechanic tells him that he’ll crash for real if he doesn’t slow down. Essentially, Dusty can’t race again.
Reeling from the news, Dusty battles depression and frustration over the diagnosis. While his friends try to locate the discontinued part that would repair Dusty’s problem, he finds himself dealing with more bad news. The airstrip at Propwash Junction is going to be closed down because its emergency fire response team, made up of one aging fire truck, is inadequate. In order to stay open, Propwash needs one more fire responder.
When Dusty learns of SEATs, single engine air tankers like himself being used to fight fires, he determines to obtain certification as a firefighter and thereby save Propwash from being closed down. Dusty enters an intense training program with a group of firefighters who risk their lives nearly every day to keep others safe. Through his experiences with this team, Dusty learns much more than how to fight fires—he learns a better way to live and how to become a true hero.
For a sequel, Fire & Rescue boasts a surprising degree of plot and character development. Indeed, the story is realized fully enough to make the movie seem like a first installment. Walt Disney Pictures brings this story to life with highly skilled animation that offers an abundance of exhilarating aerial sequences, as well as realistic landscapes and impressively authentic depictions of massive fires.
A pleasant surprise comes with the realization that Disney is applying this storytelling skill to a tale that sends a highly laudable message. Perhaps even more remarkable is the character of Dusty, since he does not fit the modern trend of anti-heroes in animated features. Even before his transforming journey in this film, Dusty starts off as a likable and kind fellow.
Though he’s tasted great success, fame hasn’t changed Dusty’s character for the worse, as it can do to some. He even manages to remain relatively unselfish, always being sure to give credit to his crew for their behind-the-scenes work that makes his racing wins possible. In addition, Dusty is loyal to his original friends and humble beginnings, and he’s the first to offer assistance when Propwash is going to be shut down.
Can such an apparently decent sort of character have anything left to learn or change? Remarkably, this story takes an already better than average “hero” and shows that the worldly success he’s achieved doesn’t make him heroic at all. He may be a good guy, but he can become more than just good. He can become a hero.
While Christians know that an even greater good than saving physical lives is spiritual salvation, this secular film gets as close to the truth as it can in its courageous renunciation of fame as worthless compared to sacrifice and preserving human lives. This theme is explored not only in Dusty’s character, but even more clearly through his firefighter boss and trainer, Blade Ranger.
[SPOILER WARNING] Eventually, viewers learn that Blade also left fame and fortune as a TV star to become a fire fighter. This switch and Blade’s willingness to sacrifice himself for others is portrayed positively in the film as Blade emerges as the truest hero of the picture. Blade teaches Dusty by example how to live more admirably and selflessly, giving of one’s time and even one’s very life for others.
In addition to this primary theme of self-sacrifice, Dusty learns a few other lessons that shape his character for the better. To begin with, Dusty doesn’t handle the news that he might never race again with much maturity. His despair leads him to daredevil acts on multiple occasions that cause damage and danger to more than himself. He also has to learn the hard way to follow orders from his superiors. Eventually, Dusty does seem to absorb Blade’s positive example and illustrates his new wisdom by acting more responsibly and selflessly.
Youngsters viewing this film will absorb examples, too, but sadly not all of them will be so positive. While the filmmakers succeeded in giving this movie an admirable theme, the family-friendly effort crashes and burns thanks to sneaky inclusion of harmful content.
One wouldn’t think body humor would be possible in a movie about vehicles, but where there’s a will, there’s a way. In the most notable such moment, a truck’s bumper is equated to a human’s derrière through the reactions of Dusty and other characters to this truck showing them his bumper and the “health” issues he’s having with it. Despite such effort to include off-color humor, this type of comedy is kept minimal.
More frequent and disturbing are the use of euphemisms for sensuality and sexuality. A female aircraft named Dipper is responsible for many of these, since she doesn’t try to hide that she’s attracted to Dusty. She drops plentiful hints, such as when they visit the grand opening of a lodge and she tells Dusty, “Let’s check it out before we check in.” She also tells him later on, “I like watching you sleep,” and gives him a little suggestive growl at one point. In a scene in which she and Dusty are watching a movie, Dipper lowers a part of her plane to embrace Dusty and, when he looks, says suggestively, “Yeah, they’re real.”
A few others characters add to this harmful content, as well. In one sequence, an older couple tells Dusty, “We wore off the treads on our honeymoon.” Dusty and his listening friends share an embarrassed reaction until the couple clarifies that they meant “driving” on their honeymoon. Dusty follows that clarification with a muttered self-reminder to “delete that image” conjured by his initial, apparently sexual, misunderstanding. In another brief moment, a character gets interrupted when he’s telling the tale of a male friend who cross-dressed with a hula skirt, etc.
The film also employs euphemisms to substitute for offensive language. For example, Dipper exclaims, “Shut the hanger door,” another character calls someone a “bumper kisser,” and a fellow says, “Chevy” in place of a swear word. Only one actual obscenity slips through, in the form of “heck.”
Typically for recent animated flicks, many of these euphemisms will go over the heads of kids in the audience, but an argument could be made for subconscious effects. Older children might consciously pick up on such content, while their parents certainly will and be just as sullied by it.
The problem of Fire & Rescue’s objectionable content is particularly disappointing in a movie that otherwise offers children valuable lessons. This film’s noble stand for self-sacrificial heroism and endorsement of selfless living over seeking fame and fortune is tarnished by the inclusion of sexual innuendo, body humor, and swearing euphemisms.
As a result, parents will have to decide if the positive themes are enough to put out the fire of harmful content and make this movie safe for their children.