Dusty Crophopper is definitely the little crop duster who could. He went from dragging his wings through the dirty air while reluctantly spewing out liquid fertilizer to following his dreams and becoming the No. 1 racer in the country. There's nobody out there as good as this zippy little single-engine prop plane when it comes to swooping in at speed and piloting around pylons with pinpoint precision.
Well, there was nobody as good as him, anyway. Now his old gearbox has started giving him trouble, and it's a real pain in the engine block.
"Can't you just swap it out?" Dusty asks his old chum and faithful mechanic Dolly. But Dolly just looks back at him glumly. It seems that his ancient reduction gearbox design has been out of production for years. There are no new parts and she's incapable of creating any. Dusty will just have to make do and keep his torque gauge down below 80%.
Of course, that's like telling Road Runner to give Wile E. Coyote a head start. Or getting the Flash to take public transit to a supervillain's lair. Dusty, to say the least, is not happy.
"Push yourself into the red," Dolly warns him sadly. "And you'll crash."
On top of that, another calamity hits Dusty's world. A fire breaks out in his little commuter airport, and it's his fault! Safety officials shut the place down, and they say it'll stay closed unless upgrades are obtained for Dusty's outdated fire truck pal Mayday, and an additional emergency responder is put into service.
There's only one thing to do. Dusty's racing days may be over and done with, but he can still help his friends. He'll head over to Piston Peak and get certified as a fire fighter.
I mean, hey, how hard could that be for the world's former No. 1 racer?
Of course it turns out to be a lot harder than it looks. Dusty meets up with Piston Peak National Park's fire-fighting crew—that includes a no-nonsense leader named Blade Ranger, a peppy female air tanker known as Lil' Dipper and a heavy-load chopper called Windlifter—and realizes that these hard-service aircraft are big-time heroes who repeatedly put themselves on the line to save the lives of others.
The movie makes it clear that the crew's collection of skilled planes, trucks and tractors are representative of the real-life professionals in our world. And we see them all risk themselves repeatedly to protect one another and those around them. Blade Ranger pumps up a fatigued and floundering Dusty with, "If you give up today, think of all the lives you won't save tomorrow." The leader puts those words into practice himself when he chooses to stay in the midst of a deadly situation and shield Dusty from a raging blaze with his own metallic body—searing his paint, scarring his metal and frying his hydraulics system in the process.
Later, Dusty follows the big helicopter's lead and pushes himself past his redline, to the point of crashing, in order to save a pair of fire-threatened innocents.
By way of a negative example, we learn about the value of humility: Piston Peak Park's supervisor is a conceited mover and shaker SUV named Cad who likes to shine the spotlight of importance on himself. And in one case his selfish choice puts the firefighters and scores of helpless citizens in big danger.
When Lil' Dipper first meets Dusty, she recognizes him as the famed racer he is and is instantly smitten. The problem is, her strong attraction is (subtly) played out (for the perceptive adults in the viewing crowd) as being a bit over the top. She presumptuously talks of them being a couple, peeks in on him at night, reports that she likes to watch him sleep and mentions that they could "check in" when they attend a party at the park lodge. She mentions, wink, wink, that weddings are held at the lodge.
Dipper snuggles up to Dusty at a gathering and drops her wingtip pontoon on the other side of him in an arm-around-the-shoulder motion. When Dusty glances at the hanging pontoon, Dipper says, "Yeah, they're real!"
A "handsome" helicopter flirts with a female sports car in a TV show. And a car at a bar reports, "Can you believe she left me for a hybrid? I never heard it coming."
Beyond the fact that Dusty's careless actions cause a large fire at Propwash Junction's airport, fires started by lightning rage through Piston Peak Park. Trees and buildings burn, while cars, tractors and a fully loaded train are all put in deadly danger by the massive blaze. Dusty and Blade Ranger both nearly die when caught in the inferno. Two shuddering RVs barely escape death as the huge bridge they're on is consumed by flame.
Dusty splashes into a river, his engines sputtering out. He's thumped into rocks and logs by the swiftly moving water, and he rapidly approaches a waterfall. A plane crashes, and its burned and broken frame is airlifted back to the airport hangar.
Crude or Profane Language
In a moment of disappointment, old Mayday calls out, "Oh, Chevy!" We hear one use of "heck."
Drug and Alcohol Content
At a small gathering and a local "bar," cars and planes drink from cans of oil with straws. A group of vehicles take a sip in a drinking game.
Other Negative Elements
A number of exhaust system fart jokes sub in for genuine chuckles. And the helicopter Windlifter is portrayed as a Native American stereotype, sometimes for humor's sake.
Let's face it, from a moviegoing perspective, this little animated pic has a pretty tough engine-torqueing vertical climb in front of it right out of the starting pylon. I mean, it's the unanticipated sequel of a movie that was considered to be a lukewarm spinoff of another waning franchise (Cars). So it's fair to say that most people aren't really expecting this to be a, uh, lofty sort of kids' flick.
And Planes: Fire & Rescue does indeed lack the spark and purr of a well-tuned cinematic air show. Characters are fairly one-dimensional, more cutesy than creative. Jokes are limited to a few tyke-targeted flatulence/backfire gags and adult-centric winks at some incongruous sexual stuff. The movie's most tender moment is a very brief one—a scene shared by two aged RVs who voice their long-lasting love for each other.
This second anthropomorphized plane pic does have its high-flying moments, though. The talking cars, planes and fire trucks are, at the very least, colorful and comfortable. And when animators zoom in to swooping, barrel-rolling, fire-fighting scenes in smoke-filled forest canyons—the "camera" diving and soaring through vividly realistic and roaring blazes—things get visually exciting.
Even better, Dusty Crophopper and his pals all hit the redline when it comes to personifying the singular heroism and dedication of fire fighters everywhere who risk everything to help people in need. They show us clearly that even in this day and age of primping egotism and self-promotion, there are still heroes worth lauding and selfless role models worth emulating.