Planes: Fire & Rescue, the 54th animated theatrical feature from Disney, is hailed as a “comedy-adventure about second chances”. It brings back some familiar faces from the first Planes movie – mainly Dusty Crophopper – but this movie is about more than funny one liners and magical happy endings. After seeing Planes: Fire & Rescue as a guest at Disney Studios, I came away with a very specific feeling: Firefighters are superheros. You may be thinking “But, it’s just a movie. Life isn’t really like a Disney movie.” Oh, but you’d be wrong.
Careful Weaving of Creativity and Fact
The most obvious element of Planes: Fire & Rescue that required research was the creation of fire fighting characters. The creative team had to pay special detail to mechanics, operation and design while still adding touches that gave the characters life and personality.
Multiple types of aerial fire fighting vehicles were examined both on the ground and in action. Everything from Huey choppers for the character of “Blade Ranger”, a veteran fire-and-rescue helicopter voiced by Ed Harris, to Bombardier 415 Superscoopers for “Dipper”, a plane capable of picking up over 1600 gallons of water to douse wildfires (voiced by Julie Bowen). Close networking between directors, creative team members, animators and more ensured that no important details were missing.
Away From The Desk and Into The Field
Putting away their laptops and pushing their desk chairs in, members of the Planes team stepped out of their offices and headed into the field. Specifically several national parks and an extensive amount of time spent with the CAL FIRE firefighting team in California. Several teams went out to conduct hands-on research and gather experience, including Paul Gerard (Creative Development Director), Jeff Howard (Co-Writer), and Bobs Gannaway (Director).
The Men and Women of CAL FIRE
When Dusty (voice of Dane Cook) learns that his engine is damaged and he may never race again, he must shift gears and is launched into the world of aerial firefighting. He joins forces with veteran fire-and-rescue helicopter Blade Ranger, Superscooper plane Dipper and a dynamic crew of elite firefighting aircraft devoted to protecting historic Piston Peak National Park from raging wildfire. Because of this, accuracy and realism concerning firefighting methods and procedure were paramount. The research team spent countless hours with CAL FIRE officers, firefighters and staff – recording, learning and experiencing. Many elements of actual events they experienced went into the film itself. One example is a morning where a fire alarm was given within minutes of the team’s arrival at the CAL FIRE base. That same level of intensity, urgency and surprise is used in the film itself.
Smokejumpers play an important role in the film, showcasing the sacrifice that firefighters make when combating wildfires. Jumping from planes into flame covered territory is only part of the risk. On foot, these men and women battle against nature to save not only the countryside, but also it’s inhabitants. You can learn more about California Smokejumpers at the official website.
High Flying Acrobatics
Along with the danger of fire, there are also high adventure scenes with aerial acrobatics. The firefighting planes and choppers loop, dive and more. To make sure the creative team wasn’t making the characters do something they couldn’t do in real life, they spent time with one especially interesting – and brave – man: Chuck Aaron, world famous stunt helicopter pilot.
Chuck Aaron is the first – and only – civilian pilot ever to be licensed to perform helicopter aerobatics in the United States. In fact, he’s one of only three pilots permitted to execute the dangerous maneuvers internationally. Piloting the one-of-a-kind Red Bull Helicopter, Chuck is world renowned for heart-stopping air show choreography including backflips, 360-degree rolls, and a breathtaking tumble called the Chuckcilvak.
Chuck has logged more than 20,000 flight hours and performed in over 150 airshows. There was no one better equipped for the Disney team to consult with when it came to the fancy flying seen in Planes Fire & Rescue. Chuck took the bravest members of the team into the air with him to experience just what a chopper can and can’t do first hand. Hint: They can do a lot, but the best parts require Chuck at the controls.
Great detail was also taken with scenery of the national parks, interiors of the most famous park lodges and more. Everything from how the water flows in a waterfall to the shadows on a high beam in a main lobby were researched, photographed, questioned and then researched again.
While all Disney animated features are amazing and wonderous with talent brimming over the edges, Planes Fire & Rescue truly impressed me with its realism. Unlike mythical creatures and fairytales, this film needed to be grounded in reality – in the stories and experiences of the men and women who risk their lives every day to keep us safe and singe free. To the team at Disney – congratulations, it was a success.
More Information on California Firefighting
Disney’s Planes Fire & Rescue – In Theaters July 18th
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