To mark today’s release of the DVD/Blu-ray of Disney’s summer hit, Planes: Fire & Rescue, I recently got to spend a fun day at Disneytoon Studios in Glendale. We were treated to a screening of the brand new animated short that is included on the new DVD/Blu-ray, “Vitaminamulch: Air Spectacular,” and we got a behind-the-scenes tour of Piston Peak National Park with the film’s art director, Toby Wilson. Best of all, we had the thrill of taking part in a recording booth session directed by sound engineer Paul McGrath and casting director Jason Henkel. The result of my voice debut are below. I had a blast but…let’s just say I shouldn’t quit my day job. After that, I had the chance to sit down with director Bobs Gannaway, producer Ferrell Barron, co-writer Jeff Howard, and Disneytoon’s head of creative development, Paul Gerard.


I enjoyed the original Planes a lot but related even more to this year’s sequel. It doesn’t hurt that my five-year-old son is obsessed with planes and fire engines, and believes that all vehicles are sentient beings who can talk!

planes-dvdPlanes: Fire & Rescue is all about second chances. When the world-famous air racer Dusty (Dane Cook) learns that his engine is damaged and he may never race again, he has to shift gears and decides to enter the world of aerial firefighting. Dusty joins forces with veteran fire-and-rescue helicopter Blade Ranger (Ed Harris) and his courageous team, including spirited air tanker Dipper (Julie Bowen). The talented cast also includes Teri Hatcher, Cedric the Entertainer, Brad Garrett, Erik Estrada, John Michael Higgins, Regina King, and Stacey Keach. My favorite performers in the film, however, were Hal Holbrook as an aging fire engine named Mayday, and the real-life couple of Anne Meara and Jerry Stiller as Winnie and Harvey, two RVs celebrating their 50th anniversary at Piston Peak National Park.

When I talked to the creative folks behind this film, I mentioned how much I appreciated their research and attention to the actual workings of firefighting vehicles, but wondered if there were ever times they fudged the facts for story purposes. “Just one thing, really,” said writer Jeff Howard. “We ran the film by the Cal-Fire guys who we’d been working with all along and they signed off on everything we showed them except for the scene at the end when Dusty flies up the waterfall. But they decided to give it to us anyway!”

“Yeah, you can’t fly up a waterfall like that,” admits director Bobs Gannaway. We used our one “Get Out of Jail” card for that one! We just felt it would be very exciting from a story standpoint!”

“I still maintain it’s technically possible,” said producer Ferrell Barron, “provided Dusty had a lot of horsepower and weighed nothing. But yeah, that was the most physics-bending thing in the movie.”

“One of our catch phrases around here is ‘truth in materials,’” said Gannaway. “We try to be as true to these planes as we can and not bend them in ways that are not believable. We tried to tether as much of the movie to truth as possible. There’s this thing we call the ‘fantasy token.’ You get one thing, in this case, the fact that these vehicles can talk, and then you want everything else to feel real. Even when we were casting, we’d look at each vehicle and ask ourselves what kind is it, where was it made, when was it made, what kind of person drives it? That helped us define the character’s personality and find actors who could embody that spirit and bring the vehicles to life.”

“The same is true for the world we’re creating,” Gannaway continued. “That’s why we worked with so many consultants who are experts in aerial firefighting. When we shot the film, even though it was computer animated, we treated the camera as if it were real. What kind of shot is this? A dolly? A crane? Is it like a Go-Pro, attached to the vehicle? We wanted the “position” of the camera to feel cinematically familiar to you when you watch the movie. All those things, along with a great story, add up to creating a very emotional experience where you hopefully forget that these are talking pieces of metal!”

planes-harvey-winnieI mentioned how thrilled I was that they brought Stiller & Meara as well as Hal Holbrook onto the film. “Hal Holbrook brought such gravitas to that role,” said Paul Gerard. “He is such a fantastic actor and brought great warmth to that character,” said Gannaway. “And Stiller and Meara were my first choice because we wanted to have a real couple who’ve been married for 50 years like their characters. They are so funny we’d just turn on the microphone and leave the room! Just having Jerry Stiller talk about the first time he kissed Anne, I get very watery-eyed every time I hear it because that came right out of Jerry’s experience — he’s talking about his wife and the first time they kissed, it was very emotional!”

“I only wish we could share all the things that didn’t make it into the film,” said Gannaway. “And my discussions with Jerry. He kept asking me things like, ‘Am I a Winnebago playing Jerry Stiller? Or am I Jerry Stiller playing a Winnebago?’ I never quite knew how to answer that question!”

I told the filmmakers that as much as my son enjoyed Planes: Fire & Rescue, he urged me to ask them when his personal wish-list sequel, Planes: Department of Sanitation, would be going into production. Several of them shared that their young children were equally obsessed with garbage trucks. “I’m on it!” Bobs Gannaway assured me. “Garbage planes? Why not!”


It was exciting to stand in the very recording booth at Disneytoon Studios where all of these amazing actors recorded their parts for the film. Hal Holbrook performed into this very microphone? Gulp. Okay, as the “Bar Truck” in this scene at Honkers Sports Bar, I only had a few short lines: “Can you believe it? She left me for a hybrid! I didn’t even hear him coming.” And perhaps I needed a few more rehearsals to really get into my character (cough), but it was still great fun seeing what an actual ADR session is like on one of these movies. Here’s my Disney debut. Be kind!

The new Blu-ray Combo Pack for Planes: Fire & Rescue includes lots of other features such as a “Welcome to Piston Peak!” mock-umentary, several behind-the-scenes shorts, a music video for Spencer Lee’s “Still I Fly,” and deleted scenes introduced by the filmmakers. The film is available on November 4, 2014, on Blu-ray, Digital HD, Disney Movies Anywhere, and On Demand.