'Planes: Fire and Rescue' doesn't soar like Pixar films of yore

I wasn't ever the biggest fan of the animated movie, "Cars." I thought that it simply didn't live up to the lofty standards set by Pixar animation's previous films. I was even less impressed by the inevitable sequel, "Cars 2," or by last summer's spin off, "Planes."

So, you can understand why I had trouble mustering up any enthusiasm for the latest film in the series, "Planes: Fire and Rescue." This is a sequel to a spin off to a sequel to a lackluster original film, so it's no surprise that it's little more than a by-the-book adventure.

I suppose that the adventure story works well enough, giving us an opportunity to cheer on a squadron of heroic firefighter airplanes. Our old pal, Dusty Crophopper (voiced by Dane Cook) is being forced to give up his racing career because his gearbox is falling apart. He finds a second career, and a chance to help afriend when he flies west to join a group of airplane firefighters charged with protecting a national forest.

It takes a bit of time for Dusty to be truly accepted onto the team, as the rest of the airplanes don't quite know how to deal with Dusty's racing fame. Still, after some fire-licked aerial adventures and few lessons in teamwork, everyone flies off into the sunset, as is befitting of an animated family film.

I'm still not a huge fan of this series. The anthropomorphized cars and airplanes seem too cartoony for me to take them seriously as living, breathing characters. There's also that underlying idea that these movies are more interested in selling toys than in telling a good story. That being said, this adventure tale works well enough to keep your blood pumping, and will certainly keep the attention of young boys looking for something to do over the summer.

"Planes: Fire and Rescue" also gets some points by dropping most of the offensive ethnic stereotypical characters from the last film, although we still have Windjammer (Wes Studi) as an Apache helicopter who speaks in clipped English as if this was a TV western from the 1960s.

I'm not sure why the filmmakers are so insistent of utilizing these stereotypes in a children's film, but at least there are fewer examples these caricature accents time around.

There are still plenty of silly jokes, physical antics and bad puns to elicit an occasional grin. The film also has plenty of visual appeal, thanks to the soaring vistas and the fire inferno backgrounds that come with the territory in any story about firefighting airplanes. Of course, this being a Disney movie, the film's heart is also in the right place, preaching a gospel of self-worth and teamwork.

All things considered, "Planes: Fire and Rescue" works as a generic summer movie aimed at kids, with a few occasional nods to their parents. There's nothing particularly wrong with any of this, or even the movie, per se, but neither does it come close to reaching the lofty heights of those early Pixar movies.

Two and a half stars ** 1/2