The Story Behind the Story of Planes: Fire & Rescue

DisneyToon Studios is back with another high-flying adventure that pushes the Planes franchise to new heights. Planes: Fire & Rescue begins when aviation-extraordinaire Dusty Crophopper’s racing career comes to an abrupt end–but there are still adventures to be had. He then joins a team of fearless aerial firefighters dedicated to protecting Piston Peak National Park from blazing wildfires, and learns the importance of second chances in the process.

Creating a realistic firefighting squadron, as well as the environments and characters in the film, was a task that the filmmakers found especially difficult, but nonetheless fought hard to execute. We recently spoke to the creative team behind the film to get some perspective on the process.

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Director Bobs Gannaway and Producer Ferrell Barron are shown one of Cal Fire’s helicopters.

“This is the most ambitious movie we’ve done,” said Ferrell Barron, producer, referencing the unique–and very hot–circumstances portrayed in the film. “Disney has never created a movie with this much fire, and it was so important for us to make the animation and story as realistic as possible.”

To stay true to real-life firefighting techniques, the Planes: Fire & Rescue team visited the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection’s Hemet-Ryan Air Attack Base to experience the sights and sounds of a true firefighting operation. The men and women of Cal Fire welcomed the filmmakers, and allowed them to get up-close and personal with the equipment and planes that they use to fight wildfires.

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Director Bobs Gannaway poses behind a Cal Fire tactical aircraft.

“Our executive producer, John Lasseter, has a mandate for all of us: find truth in materials,” said Jeff Howard, screenwriter. “We must dig into the world that these characters and vehicles live in and allow that to help feed our story.”

In addition to learning about actual firefighting techniques, the filmmakers also had to learn the ins and outs of what Cal Fire’s radio chatter sounds like, what they do when they’re not hard at work, and what inspires them all to put their lives at risk each and every day to protect the forest.

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A Cal Fire Super Huey helicopter prepares to take off.

The filmmakers interviewed dozens of aerial firefighters, smoke jumpers, and pilots to learn everything there is to know about fire combat. “We literally showed up one day to the base and started shouting ‘Show us the planes! Show us the planes!’” said Howard. “They were so excited to share their world with us, and it was so important to allow them to participate in our process as well.”

Cal Fire worked with the filmmakers from the very beginning of development to the very end of post-production, giving notes on the story and providing feedback on the aesthetics and dialogue of the final film. “We’re making this movie for everyone,” said Howard. “But we really concentrated on also making this a tribute to the firefighters.”

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Blade Ranger (voice of Ed Harris), a veteran fire-and-rescue helicopter, heads up the Piston Peak Air Attack team.

At the end of the day, the filmmakers behind Plane: Fire and Rescue not only met a talented group of firefighters, but also made some pretty good friends in the process. “We’ve known them for four years now,” said Gannaway. “I can’t imagine this film being a reality without their hospitality, wisdom, and friendship.”

Disney’s Planes: Fire & Rescue opens in theatres on July 18, 2014.

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