My son and I were driving home in a thunderstorm on Monday evening. Lightning lit up the sky, and he whimpered from his car seat behind me. Then he stopped. “Mama, if the lightning made a fire, they can put it out,” he said. As we inched along in a glow of red brake lights ahead of us, my son began to tell me about firefighters and cooperation and teamwork. We had just seen a screening of Planes: Fire and Rescue, and I was genuinely thrilled to hear how many lessons from the film had resonated with him.
I know it isn’t up to a film studio to pass out life lessons to my kid, but being able to have more than action figures and fart jokes in a PG-rated movie is refreshing. W is at an age where he parrots every line of dialogue in a film or show that sounds even remotely zany. I’d be thrilled if he parroted a touch of old-school decorum.
The fast-paced Planes sequel brings us the return of Dusty Crophopper, the crop-dusting plane who became a famous racer in the original film. The movie starts with fantastic action, reminding us what a wonderful ace flyer Dusty is. I won’t spoil what leads up to it, but Dusty is presented with an opportunity to train to become a volunteer firefighter. He takes off to Piston Peak, a stunningly animated locale reminiscent of Yosemite.
At Piston Peak we are introduced to all new characters: Blade Ranger, Lil’ Dipper, Windlifter, Maru, and several Smokejumpers with large personalities. I instantly fell in love with the wise-cracking and pragmatic Maru, the mechanic tug who keeps the team of firefighting planes and jumpers in top form.
My son picked up on how Dusty charged into Piston Peak without listening to Blade Ranger’s rules or instructions. I can plead with W to use his listening ears, but having him see a character not use his and then face a pretty intense consequence was a big deal. The moment has now become something in my mom tool belt of stories to pull from should I ever need to remind him again, “listening ears!”
Other elements of the film that resonated with my son surprised me. There are several fires in the film (no surprise there), and the theme of teamwork really grew to match the size of the escalating fires. Later in the film, when one character very boldly does not work with the team,it is like a record scratch to harmony. W told me later he was so upset at the character for not cooperating. We have now discussed not only how we could talk to a friend if that ever happened (sympathy), but also why someone might not cooperate (empathy).
Watching a film with our kids can be an occasion to hone in on access points. We have a shared experience of laughing or flinching or marveling in the dark at the big screen. The plot and story lines can be picked apart and placed directly into our own lives to help explain moments that may be murky. “Remember when we watched the movie where something kind of like this happened?” can be the beginning of the perfect thing to say in a hard moment.
Beyond all of these unexpected opportunities for great conversation with my kid, I also appreciated the lengths the writers of Planes: Fire and Rescue went to with tipping the hat to parents. Sprinkled throughout the film are jokes and clever moments floating just above the children’s heads. There is even a hilarious tribute to a TV show most of us in our generation grew up watching (I’ll let you discover that one on your own!).
3 things to keep in mind when you go to watch Planes: Fire and Rescue
• If you have the opportunity to see the film in 3-D, DO IT!
• One of the tag lines for the film is, “When others fly out, heroes fly in.” The film is dedicated to firefighters, and there are very real messages about fire safety sprinkled throughout it. Be prepared to answer some questions about how fires spread and water pressure after the film.
• Make sure to stay for the closing credits; there are some great gems in there!