Making the Grades
Firefighting is serious business. But battling wildfires in the backcountry of a national park poses some extra challenges. Dusty Crophopper (voice of Dane Cook) learns that when he joins a force of veteran firefighters led by rescue helicopter Blade Ranger (voice by Ed Harris).
Dusty is there because his racing career is done, thanks to a damaged gearbox. After throwing a bit of a tantrum over the news, Dusty accidentally causes a fire that shuts down the Propwash Junction landing strip. Now unless the town can make significant improvements to their response plan and find a second firefighter, the airport will remain closed for good. And that’s bad news for the large number of residents that are airplanes.
Stepping up to earn his certification as a firefighter is one of the few times Dusty takes responsibility for his actions in this story. It’s an eye-opening experience for the little propeller plane that has become used to the accolades and applause of the racing world. At this airstrip deep inside the park system, Dusty’s aeronautic accomplishments don’t mean a thing. Instead he has to prove he has what it takes to fly with this dedicated crew.
Along with Blade Ranger, he meets Lil’ Dipper (voice of Julie Bowen), Windlifter (voice of Wes Studi), Cabbie (voice of Dale Dye) and a crew of smokejumpers (voices of Regina King, Corri English, Bryan Callen, Danny Pardo and Matt Jones). Luckily for the movie’s merchandising department, this entire new cast also translates into more toys on store shelves.
In reality Dusty’s transformation isn’t that farfetched. During the 1950s crop dusters became some of the first planes adapted to aerial firefighting. The historical angle is interesting, as are depictions of some of the actual techniques use by these blaze extinguishers.
The problem is this film is aimed at the 5 to maybe 10-year-old age group that is still interested in playing with cartoon looking toys. The movie’s plot however is full of peril. During a huge forest fire, Dusty and Blade are forced to take shelter in an old mine shaft when they are stranded in the heart of the blaze. Another time Dusty defiantly disobeys orders and ends up in the river rapids. As a result of his disobedience, he puts his life and the life of his rescuer in serious danger. While the animated flames and explosive fireballs look impressive—especially on the big screen—they may be too intense for young viewers. These vehicles also spend some of their off in bars and have a tendency to use substitute swear words.
So while Dusty and his friends make incredibly cute play things and teach some unmistakable lessons about responsibility and friendship, they just don’t reach the kind of altitude we’ve come to expect from this animation studio.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about Planes: Fire & Rescue.
How does Dusty’s disobedience endanger the safety of himself and Blade? Should there be consequences for people who knowingly disobey rules or put themselves in danger that ultimately threatens the lives of their rescuers? As a first responder, what kind of sacrifices does Blade make for his crew and the park visitors?
Why does Dusty offer to become a firefighter? Is it more difficult than he expected? What responsibility do campers, hikers and tourist have to protect the forests they are visiting?
How does this film use stereotypical depictions of various groups? Is the portrayal of a Native American helicopter a positive or negative one? What other ethic or cultural groups are portrayed? How is gender depicted?
Although Dusty causes some accidents and endangers the lives of others, does he receive any significant consequences for his actions? Should he?