This image released by Disney shows character Dusty

Heroics take flight

Feisty prop-spinner Dusty Crophopper makes another pass around the tower and finds a second chance gives him a new purpose in life in Planes: Fire and Rescue.

Planes: Fire and Rescue

2.5 stars (out of four)

Rated: G

By Linda Barnard

Special to the Advocate

Feisty prop-spinner Dusty Crophopper makes another pass around the tower and finds a second chance gives him a new purpose in life in Planes: Fire and Rescue.

Once again voiced by comic Dane Cook, the fear of heights that grounded Dusty in 2013’s Planes is far behind him. He’s a full-fledged superstar racer. But there’s some turbulence ahead for him in Disney’s toon tribute to brave firefighters.

While the sequel doesn’t fly as high as the far superior Pixar Studios’ auto comedies Cars and Cars 2, it’s an improvement on the first animated adventure about the air and ground residents of Propwash Junction.

Dusty is midflight when he’s suddenly grounded by gearbox woes that can’t be repaired, even by ace mechanic Dottie the forklift (Teri Hatcher, one of a host of celebrity voices). He can still fly, but she warns him he can’t push his speed into the red like he once did.

Worse, Dusty’s stubborn insistence he can soar higher than his damage leads to a fire at the airfield that aging fire truck Mayday (Hal Holbrook) can’t handle. That brings in safety trucks who demand Propwash Junction up its fire protection.

Convinced he can make amends, Dusty decides to sign up for flying firefighter training to join Mayday’s team now that his racing career is on hold. He says goodbye to hometown pals like dimwitted-but-loyal Chug the fuel truck (Brad Garrett) and sets out for the aerial firefighting school at Yellowstone-clone Piston Peak National Park.

But it’s not going to be easy to learn how to battle forest fires. Tough helicopter Blade Ranger (Ed Harris) is Dusty’s firefighting instructor. He isn’t going to give him an easy ride, constantly berating him for holding back when he needs to add speed. Dusty isn’t about to share his faulty gearbox secret and as it turns out, Blade Ranger has something he’s keeping from Dusty, too.

Dusty’s engine gets plenty of revving anyway, thanks to the advances of star-struck water-scooping plane Dipper (Modern Family’s Julie Bowen), whose full-on crush makes Dusty decidedly nervous.

The earnest Smokejumpers team of wee forklifts and bulldozers who parachute into hot spots deliver laughs. But for the most part, Planes: Fire and Rescue is more about chuckles than big guffaws, coupled with thrilling 3-D flight and firefighting action scenes and lessons about friendship, respect and loyalty.

The planes and ground support decide to take a night off for the big reopening of the Grand Fusel Lodge (get it?) but wouldn’t be so quick to sip the free oil if they knew developer Cad Spinner (a luxury SUV voiced by Bad Teacher’s John Michael Higgins) had diverted the firefighting budget to fancy up the resort.

When a massive fire cuts off the main road and threatens the lodge and its four-wheeled guests, the firefighting planes take off to save the day. But is Dusty up to the task?

Fire and Rescue is squarely aimed at younger audiences (clocking in at a kid-friendly 84 minutes) and bolstered by Mark Mancina’s chirpy score, along with tunes from country star Brad Paisley, Spencer Lee and even some AC/DC and Captain and Tennille.

Adults will smile at CHIPS’ Erik Estrada in a clever cameo and a pretty funny Burt Reynolds joke, plus Jerry Stiller and Anne Meara do a familiar shtick as devoted married RVs, Harvey and Winnie.

Linda Barnard is a syndicated Toronto Star movie critic.

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