Movie Review: A successful flight for ‘Planes’ sequel

Will you still respect me as a critic if I say I was really looking forward to the new “Planes” movie – and that it’s even better than I expected?

Amid the summer blitz of big-budget blockbusters, I find inauspicious little films like this a breath of fresh air: No hype, no bloated running time or overblown action; just 84 minutes of corny puns, dandy visuals, terrific vocals and solid if predictable plotting.

The first film – released last summer on a modest budget, to an impressive $220 million take – concerned a cocky crop-duster in a round-the-world race; this year’s “Planes: Fire & Rescue” finds Dusty joining a squadron that fights fires at a national park – after various mishaps preclude further racing.

While not as visually impressive as a Pixar film – which it isn’t – Disney’s exciting little gem nonetheless looks great. Handsome vehicles – including many cool cars and an old-time steam train – almost are outdone by soulful sunsets, waterfalls, pine woods and mountain vistas, often standing together in the same shot.

The sizzling rescue scenes no doubt owe much of their power to literally dozens of firefighters and park personnel listed in the closing credits; I don’t think I’ve ever seen that many consultants on an animated film.

Dane Cook and Stacy Keach, returning from “Planes 1,” are joined here by a bevy of distinguished performers, many in small roles: Hal Holbrook, Barry Corbin, Wes Studi, Brad Garrett, Teri Hatcher, Julie Bowen, Fred Willard, Cedric the Entertainer, Rene Auberjonois, the inimitable Patrick Warburton, plus Jerry Stiller and his wife Anne Meara as a pair of long-married RVs.

So much talent! Again one wishes they’d hand out a cast-card beforehand to help keep track – though Ed Harris, fresh off his triumph in “Snowpiercer,” is instantly recognizable as Blade.

There’s also a cameo by Pixar stalwart John Ratzenberger; and in one plot strand featuring an old TV show called “CHoPs” (about rescue helicopters), the film even finds a role for Erik Estrada – from TV’s “CHiPs.”

“Fire & Rescue” also features more than one inspiring act of self-sacrifice, plus several nicely staged action scenes – ironically, the best of these involves raging river water.

And it’s funny, too. The best moments include a clever pun about pickup trucks and Mayday’s comical boasting about his new “siren.”

“Fire & Rescue” is no masterpiece, but it certainly gets the job done; my two young companions, ages 5 and 8, both loved it, making this aging rail-fan wonder if – after Disney finishes with the planned third installment on this series – they might consider a film about trains.

And after that, maybe a mash-up of Disney and Pixar called “Planes, Trains and Automobiles” – with characters like John Caddy and Steve Aston Martin.

Ugh – sorry.