Movies like “Planes: Fire & Rescue” are the bane of a movie critic’s existence, but not for the reasons you might suspect. It has a rock-solid moral center, preaching the virtues of bravery and self-sacrifice for the benefit of others, and those are important things for young children to learn in the event that their real-life role models aren’t teaching them those things already. It also has some inspired voice work by a well-chosen cast, and some impressive visuals. However, in order to make said point about the virtues of bravery and self-sacrifice, the story line and dialogue are stripped of nearly all nuance, and in the end we are left with a Message Movie, and a straight-to-video Message Movie at that. (That might sound harsh, but last year’s “Planes” was originally meant to go straight to video.) Even Disney knows that these movies are second class to films like “Frozen” and “Wreck-It-Ralph.” It’s a place filler until they unveil their next tentpole release. Easily consumable and earnest, but knowingly lacking, and absolutely not worth paying extra cash to see in 3D.
Newly crowned race champion Dusty Crophopper (Dane Cook) is enjoying his moment in the sun as the It Boy of aerial racing, but his mechanic Dottie (Teri Hatcher) advises him that he has a part that is both faulty and irreplaceable, and if he continues to push the limits, he will crash. Of course, he does exactly that, and sets off a chain of events that exposes the airport he calls home as being unsafe. They need another rescue vehicle and, realizing that his racing days are all but over, Dusty volunteers to be the rescue vehicle. Fire truck Mayday (Hal Holbrook) sends Dusty up to train with Blade Ranger (Ed Harris), and Dusty quickly, and repeatedly, learns that this job is much harder than it looks.