By now, all of you readers who have followed this series of articles have seen through so many extinguishments of blazes, you should be eligible for a comfortable retirement on a fireman’s pension. But before we all get put out to pasture like the old fire horse, there’s still a few major spot fires needing containment, and some last chances to demonstrate heroism. So don’t start resting too comfortably in that fireman’s bunk – the call to action might sound at any minute.
True or False Alarm (DIC Entertainment, The Wacky World of Tex Avery (Maurice and Mooch). 11/24/97) – The “Maurice and Mooch element of this multi-mini-series show was something that by right didn’t belong in a program nominally devoted to the memory of the works of Avery – but instead, should have been reserved for a tribute to the memory of Famous Studios. The reason was that this series plays like a warmed-over redo of any standard formula Baby Huey Noveltoons. Mooch is a direct parallel to the fox, who constantly sought a duck dinner in those films, the only differentiation being in his voice, which more resembles Jimmy Durante than Jackson Beck’s Brooklyn-flavored accent. Maurice, a young chicken with a inexplicable Scandahoovian mock-accent, is in the same yellow and blue color scheme as Huey, and only slightly less gullible, though lacking in Huey’s superpowers. Much as Famous’s fox was often found, Mooch lives in a ramshackle hovel, barely eking out an existence, and has eyes only for a tasty Maurice dinner. Today, he is found outside his home, begging for food from fellow predators passing by (look for a rabbit hunter who suspiciously resembles Elmer Fudd). He spots Maurice skipping by the local fire station across the street, where the Department is hosting an open-house day. Maurice is wearing a toy fire hat, and tugging along a fire engine pull toy, so Mooch knows fireman tactics are in order. He enters a phone booth, and reports an emergency to get most of the personnel out of the way – a cat up a tree, in Sydney, Australia. All but a handful of firemen asleep upstairs exit the station pronto, just as Maurice peers in.
Mooch appears in slicker and hat, to give the squab a guided tour. Leading him upstairs, Mooch tries a swing with an axe, but misses as Maurice romps among the bunk beds of the remaining firemen. Maurice then spots the fire pole, and gives it a try. Mooch hollers that he’ll be right down – after putting on his tenderizing boots, bristling with spikes. He aims his descent at Maurice, but the chick happens to locate a fireman’s axe, with blade pointed upward. Mooch just manages to assume a straddling position to miss getting severed in two – but does not escape the approach of the remaining firemen in response to another alarm, who slide down the pole one after another, repeatedly trouncing Mooch. After they have left the station, another alarm rings. Maurice and Mooch are the only ones left in the station, so Maurice runs for the engine himself, hopping in the cab, He is thankful he is carrying his Animated Driver’s License, Mooch grabs onto the rear ladder, and it’s a typical wild ride. Mooch winds up on the rear steering wheel, lining up to collide with a long row of parking meters, each of which strikes him in the face, until his jaw drops open to eject a mouthful of change, and his eyes assume the shape of meter arrows pointing to a violation. Maurice approaches a speed bump. “Ooh, don’t want to miss that.” His bounce ejects Mooch onto the street. But the ride isn’t over yet, as Mooch’s foot is caught in a knot of the firehose, which is unspooling off the truck. When the hose reaches full extension, Mooch is dragged along about three city blocks behind the engine. He connects with the skateboards of two children along the sidewalk, and performs a land version of a water-ski tow. Finally, as Maurice arrives at the fire, the hose rewinds, slamming Mooch into the rear of the engine. Maurice runs with the hose nozzle toward the blaze, but is stopped cold in his progress when Mooch seizes the hose from the middle, and attempts to haul him in. Instead of Maurice at the nozzle end, he finds a note tied to it, reading “5-4-3-2-1″. After Mooch finishes reading it aloud, he receives what he was counting down to – another anticipated wild ride on a runaway fire hose, as Maurice turns on the water pressure on cue. Once the water finally subsides, Maurice congratulates him with a shout of “You did it”. Mooch looks up to see what he did, and finds the fire now out on a largely burnt-out hulk of a building. He suddenly notes the mailbox on the property, and discovers that Maurice has taken a circuitous path to get to the scene – and the address is Mooch’s own house. The poor fox bawls on the street in a “you can’t win” tantrum, as we iris out.
Backdaft (Hanna-Barbera/Cartoon Network, Johnny Bravo, 9/8/00) – Johnny’s nerdy friend Karl and his dad (chief of the volunteer fire department) preside over a town hall meeting. Johnny is in attendance in the front row – only because he’s mistaken the hall for a movie theater, and declares himself “Outta here” when he discovers the true program, only to get tangled up in a batch of folding chairs on the way out, leaving him to acknowledge that perhaps he can stay a bit longer. The chief announces that half of the city’s brigade (comprised of a single hobo who has departed after obtaining a winning lottery ticket) have resigned, leaving only himself and Karl, and an urgent opening for a new volunteer. Dad pulls down a curtain with poster art upon it, showing pretty girls oogling a fireman, and stating “We want you”. With that kind of action, Johnny is in, frantically waving to Dad to volunteer. Johnny insists he has all the qualifications – he already owns a pair of suspenders, and he loves fires so much, he could sit and watch it burn for hours. Dad desperately tries to ignore him, encouraging other members of the audience (even an old man and a little girl) to volunteer. But there are no other takers, and Dad reluctantly announces that Johnny gets the job. “Be at the firehouse at nine tomorrow”, Dad orders. “What, in the morning?” replies Johnny. Dad tosses his helmet at Johnny, hitting him in the head. “I’ll bring donuts”, the dazed hulk responds.
Johnny arrives the next morning, before the chief comes in. Karl tries to read Johnny an inspirational poem of his own creation about firefighting. Johnny ignores him, checking out the cool firefighting stuff. Like Stimpy the cat, Johnny runs around and around the firehouse to repeatedly slide down the fire pole, then pushes a button on the engine that extends the ladder – backwards and through the rear wall of the building. Karl cautions him that they must treat the equipment as if it was their best friend. Johnny calmly picks up a fire extinguisher, presses a button, and blasts Karl in the face with foam. Johnny then looks down at the extinguisher, smiles, and says, “Thanks, friend.” The chief arrives, and begins Johnny with a lesson is rescuing kittens from trees. Karl is delegated to role-play as a cat, and really gets into his part, licking himself and spitting up a hairball. “The first thing you do is…” begins the chief, but Johnny pushes him aside, carrying a large axe. “I know, I know. I’m not an idiot”, replies Johnny, as he begins vigorously chopping with his axe, felling the tree with Karl still in it. “Bad kitty”, Johnny reprimands to Karl, who is pinned under the fallen tree. Next lesson gives Johnny fifteen seconds to hook up a hose to save Karl from a fake fire in the window of a prop building front. Johnny hooks the hose to the hydrant, but gets no water. “Here, hold this”, Johnny says to Karl, handing him the nozzle end. Johnny ponders the fire hydrant for several seconds, then hits upon how to start the water flow – by banging his head with full force upon the top of the hydrant. “This won’t end well”, replies Karl in underplay, as he takes another of those wild rides on a runaway hose. Respect for his offspring is not one of Dad’s stronger points, as he reacts in total calmness, inviting Johnny to a “Cookie break?” “I’m there”, saus Johnny eagerly as they depart.
Johnny and the chief lollygag around the station, not only eating cookies but slabs of elk, while the chief complains about a TV program where disaster could have been avoided if only basic life-saving techniques had been used. “Aw, cut Debbie some slack. She only joined Bikini Watch last season”, notes Johnny [parody reference to “Baywatch”]. Dad states that if the only thing Johnny learns in his training is how to sit around eating and drinking on the public tab, then “my work is done.” Suddenly, the alarm bell rings, jolting Johnny into a fit of shivers, and onto the floor. “What the heck is that?”, he asks. “I dunno. The dang thing’s always going off during my program”, the chief replies. Karl enters, announcing it’s a real fire. Both Karl and Johnny race to the engine, struggling over the door handle. Each insists that they want to drive, and Karl suggests a round of rock/paper/scissors to settle it. On the count of three, instead of signifying one of the three items, Johnny merely projects his fist forward, punching out Karl and slamming him into the wall. “You win”, cries Karl weakly. Johnny takes off with the engine, entirely forgetting to take along the chief and Karl. Johnny takes command of the rear ladder wheel, leaving no one driving the engine cab. The usual wild ride ensues, with destruction of telephone booths, plate glass windows, and ultimately the smash-up of the truck. But the smoke is in sight, as Johnny climbs to an upper story window. He axes a hole through the wall, then reaches through the oversize hole to needlessly unlock the door to let himself in. Inside is another bad cook – a woman who has nearly burned an oven-top container of popcorn. “Don’t panic, lady. I’ll save ‘ya”, Johnny shouts. “What are you doing? Everything is fine,” responds the woman. “I said, DON”T PANIC!!!”, shouts Johnny all the louder. He turns on a hose, partially flooding the place, then observes, “Wait a minute. This is just what the fire is expecting us to do! Quick, out the fire escape.” Johnny jumps out a window, failing to hear the woman reply that she doesn’t have a fire escape. Johnny winds up buried deep in the pavement below. Dad finally catches up with him, and advises him, “Say Johnny, you know what would help the department is if you took your 20 year unpaid vacation now.” “Sweet”, responds Johnny, “…Now, about those free medical benefits?”
Firehouse Woody (Universal, The New Woody Woodpecker Show, 7/20/02) – Walking along the street, Woody’s attention is attracted by an aroma trial coming from the window of a fire station. He peers in to a cafeteria and wardrobe room. “Oh boy. Great grub. Fancy duds. What a place.” At the front entrance to the station, the chief is about to exit on an errand unknown, leaving behind only a trainee – a vainglorious eagle named Rock Granite. The chief reminds him he is only a trainee, and to call the chief in case of a real emergency – “Don’t be a hero.” Rock salutes, but as soon as the chief is out of sight, revels in the thought that he has the whole place to himself, and jumps into the cab of one of the engines, pretending to be in charge. In the truck’s rear-view mirror, he sights Woody at the station windowsill. Within seconds, he sets out a safety net under the window (though it’s only two feet to the ground below), then races back inside the station, to jump out the window with Woody, missing the net entirely, and driving the woodpecker’s head into the soft ground outside. “What’s the big idea?” complains Woody. “Rock Granite’s the name, saving lives is my game. I’m a REAL fireman”, says Rock, allowing his grinning teeth to reflect the glint of the sunshine, like a true movie hero. Woody asks what a guy’s gotta so to get in on the chow, uniforms, and ringing the fire bell. Rock seizes upon the opportunity to have his own personal trainee to push around. Things get a bit more complicated than description merits, as Woody is assigned menial tasks which were really Rock’s responsibility, and told he doesn’t get the real goodies and suit until he proves he’s got the right stuff to be a real fireman.
Woody attempts to fake a series of daring rescues, including conspiring with a little girl in a park across the street to “rescue” her baby doll from being stuck in a fence, and use of a crash dummy to fake a steamroller accident (Woody saving the dummy with artificial respiration, by simply breathing into and inflating his balloon body). Each of Woody’s attempts, however, is spoiled when Rock tries to crash the party, interrupting the “emergencies” with his own feeble rescue attempts, then taking all the credit himself. Woody finally fixes it to keep the bird from further intervening, by spreading glue upon sofa cushions, and getting Rock stuck to the furniture. Rock still manages to drag himself outside, with the sofa trailing behind him, and slams into a street vendor’s hot dog stand, ejecting some hot coals from the stand’s burner into the air, and onto the umbrella atop the pushcart. “Fire”, yells the vendor. Woody finally gets a chance to use the fire truck, spraying the wagon with a water cannon to extinguish the blaze. The chief returns to find Rock on the street on the sofa, and demands an explanation for a trainee sitting down on the job. “Trainee?” responds Woody, being ignored entirely as the chief drags Rock back to the station for some discipline, leaving Woody to realize he has been duped. But Woody’s efforts have not gone unnoticed by the vendor, who, as a reward, promises him free hot dogs for life. “Starting now?”, says the Woodpecker, tossing away his fire hat back into the station, and consuming his first installment of reward, cooked just the way Woody likes it from the blaze – well done.
At least two episodes of The Simpsons deal with fire. In Homer the Heretic (Film Roman, 10/8/92), Homer tires of attending Sunday sermons of Reverend Lovejoy, and attempts to form his own religion to suit himself, allowing for fake holidays to get out of work, smoking, drinking of all the Duff beer he can hold, and collecting back issues of Playdude magazine. He falls asleep on the sofa while alone at the house, allowing a cigar to fall from his lips, igniting the magazines strewn on the floor below him. The flame spreads along electrical wires to the lamp, the TV set, and most of the appliances, then down into the basement, where they ignite a box of oily rags for good measure. Before you know it, most of the Simpsons’ house is red with flames. Homer, still sleeping off the effects of the beer, rolls over, and calls for Marge to turn up the heat. The family dog enters the room, and is about to pull on Homer’s sleeve, when he spots something more interesting – a Hershey bar in Homer’s pocket, which the dog makes off with and departs. Only an ember singeing one of his few precious strands of remaining hair awakens Homer. He tries to remember what to do by repeating a television fire safety jingle – which he remembers all the words of excepting the boring part where what to do is actually described. The smoke overcomes him, and he collapses on the floor.
From across town, Apu spies the fire through the windows of his Kwik-E-Mart. He dons a helmet reading “Fire Chief”, and tells the local tough kids in the store that they are on their honor not to steal anything while he is away. One of them is already in the process of opening a carton of food with intent of devouring it free. Apu realizes honor will not save his merchandise, and produces one of his infant sons, who he leaves in charge of the store – armed with a shotgun – leaving the tough kids’ jaws hanging open, the pilfered foodstuffs falling out of their mouths. Most of Springfield’s males, including Barney, Krusty the Klown, and reporter Kent Brockman, ride to the fire as volunteers on the engine. Their progress is stopped as Apu brakes the engine for a family of ducks crossing the road – in a seemingly endless line of ducklings as far as the eye can see. Meanwhile, neighbor Ned Flanders has also spotted the blaze, and is pounding on the Simpsons’ bay window in attempt to arouse Homer. When Homer does not respond, Flanders kicks in the door, and attempts to carry his oversize neighbor to safety. A pair of blazing beams fall across the doorway, blocking their route of escape. Supports for the living room floor start to give way, leaving Flanders hanging with his feet dangling into the basement through a hole in the floor. Flanders scrambles back up into the living room, and lugs Homer up the steps to the second story. There, he tosses a mattress out the window, then prays for the Lord to guide Homer to the mattress square and true, as he tosses Homer out the window. Homer hits the mattress squarely – then bounces off it through the bay window, right back into the living room. With a look registering, “Here we go again”, Flanders follows Homer with a duplicate jump, and also lands in the living room, finally dragging Homer out through the window, just as the fire department arrives. Barney can’t figure out what his axe is for, and when told it’s for chopping stuff, meaningless begins chopping down the Simpsons’ curbside mailbox. The other crew members work to get the fire under control, while the reviving Homer has the good sense to thank his overly-religious neighbor for saving his life. Flanders responds that Homer would have done the same for him, while Homer guiltily envisions such a situation, in the more realistic light of reclining in his backyard hammock and merely laughing while Flanders calls for help. When the fire is out, the crew gathers together with the family in what little is left of the kitchen. Homer believes God brought his vengeance down upon him for his fake religion (a notion he believes is confirmed by an isolated rain shower with rainbow that saved Flanders’ home from the spreading fire while the Simpsons house was still burning), but the others convince him that God was merciful in arousing the heroic spirit of his many friends of all denominations to save him. Homer decides to give church another try, promising to be front row center next Sunday. He makes good on his promise, although sound asleep in his seat, his snoring louder than Lovejoy’s sermon, as he dreams of God about to divulge to him the meaning of life – until the credits begin to roll.
Crook and Ladder (Film Roman, The Simpsons, 5/6/07) – By Simpsons’ standards, this episode is a little uneven, its first half having little to do with its latter. In part one, Homer tries out a new sleeping aid – an over-the-counter med called Nappien – which has notable side effects, turning Homer into a mischief-making zombie by night, with no recollection of his actions in the morning. Bart sees possibilities in this, and takes unknowing Dad out on an evening binge to do his bidding. When the pills wear off, Dad finds himself at the wheel of his car, and reacts in shock, careening the vehicle through the door of the Springfield Fire Station. As the car drives through the station kitchen, it knocks over a pot of fresh chili from the stove, which spreads on the floor around the fire pole. Homer meanwhile gets ejected from his car, his nose catching upon the clapper of the station fire bell, sounding an alarm. The fire crew (this time including none of the show’s regulars, with expectation we will have forgotten the prior episode above) awakens and slides down the fire pole, but skids on the fallen chili, leaving the entire crew covered in sauce and huddled into a corner of the station. The smell of the chili arouses three Dalmatian mascots, who eye the tasty-smelling crew with ravenous eyes. The chief and crew are savagely mauled by the dogs, and all end up in the hospital for an extended stay, leaving the community without a fire crew. Mayor Quimby calls for volunteers, and hands over responsibility for the city to the first four shmoes who show up: Apu, Principal Skinner, Moe, and Homer (who just can’t help feeling he was somehow responsible for the whole mess, though not outright admitting it). Quimby hands them a brochure on fire prevention of a scant few pages that came with the engine, and tells them that’s all the training they will get. Instead of staying at the station, each of the volunteers returns to their usual routines, and waits for an alarm to come in. Homer is over-anxious in the same manner as Fred Flintstone – refusing to take off his slicker or let go of his fire axe, waiting for an alarm that might sound any moment – yet keeps waiting day after day, even while in bed at night with Marge. Finally, an alarm rings in the middle of the night, sending Homer into jitters rather than responsive alertness. Marge tells him to please come back alive, and Homer complains about her telling him how to do his job.
The group successfully puts out a fire at Luigi’s Italian restaurant, resulting in Luigi treating them to a free banquet of all they can eat. Moe comments that this almost makes up for not getting paid. A rescue of the actor that played McBain gets them free leather jackets with logos of some of the star’s lesser-known pictures. The group starts to get used to receiving such freebies, until they perform a rescue at Mr. Burns’ mansion – and receive nothing but a less-than-cordial “Thank you”. Homer complains “He stiffed us”, and Moe complains louder that he can’t believe Burns acted completely in character. A stray glowing ember drifts by Moe in the breeze, and Moe gets an idea. He blows the ember upwards with gentle puffs of air, aiming it toward the mansion door. The group follows Moe inside, where Moe continues to guide the ember to a room marked “Priceless Valuables – Do Not Loot”. “Oh, the fire has spread to this room – and it is our duty to follow it”, proclaims Moe with mock emphasis. Once inside, Moe quickly stomps out the ember, but declares that much of the priceless treasures stored in the room around them is “smoke damaged”, so Burns won’t be needing it. “Are you suggesting that we should steal?” asks Apu. “Whoa! It ain’t stealing if you take it fast”, replies Moe, stuffing his pockets. Such begins a life of crime, as the boys fill their own needs with each new call – and then some. The boys toss merchandise out windows instead of victims, bouncing the items by net into the rear of their fire truck. Homer pries a large metal “C” off the sign of a department store, claiming it’ll make a great toilet seat. Homer rides five self-balancing platforms (called “Segues”) at once out of the door of “The Sharper Mark-Up”. Only Skinner begins to get cold feet, wondering if they’ve crossed the line. Homer tries to drown him out with the engine siren, and Skinner finally agrees to look the other way – not easy, when the look reveals the boys removing a mummy sarcophagus from the Springfield Museum. Homer faces embarrassment and shame, however, as Marge and the kids follow the engine to watch daddy as a hero, and instead catch him in the act. “You should have seen the faces on your kids when they caught you stealing”, says Marge to Homer the next morning, then calls upstairs, “Kids, get down here and show him the faces.” All three children arrive, giving Homer a hang-dog face of sadness. Homer can’t escape those looks, as even the kids’ pictures seem to mirror the same expression. He even tosses their breakfasts of bacon and eggs at them, to attempt to produce artificial toon smiley-faces upon their own, but the bacon and eggs droop into the same forlorn expression.
At the next fire scene, Homer confronts Moe with his guilt. Moe at first won’t listen, complaining that “It’s 500 degrees in here”, then looks down at a thermometer, and realizing it’s only 495 degrees, responds, “What’s on your mind?” Homer finally gets Moe about to admit that they’ve gone too far, when Moe spots a solid-gold grandfather’s clock. He can’t resist grabbing it – even though it’s red hot – and attempts to carry it away, when the floorboards begin to collapse under him. Homer yells that he can help Moe, so long as he lets go of the clock. Moe almost fails to heed Homer’s warning, declaring sentimental value: “It’s been in my family for 40 seconds.” However, he finally relents, and is pulled to safety. Apu also needs rescuing when a beam falls, knocking him unconscious. Without reward, Homer carries Moe and Apu upon his shoulders to safety, and receives the enthusiastic cheers of the crowd. He smiles at the simple good feeling of it. The final scenes show Homer back at the house, telling the kids that he and the others have seen the light, and given up their thieving ways. “What did you do with the loot?” asks Bart. Homer declares they donated it to a place that could most use it – skid row. A final shot shows homeless waiting in a breadline, riding Homer’s five self-balancing platforms. “Look at me”, says one of them, “I’m the bum of the future!”
Fire Escape (Disney Channel, Mickey Mouse Cartoons, 4/25/14 – Paul Rudish, dir.) – Mickey whistles his way along the street, on route to a date at Minnie’s apartment. He encounters Goofy waiting at a bus stop bench, and exchanges greetings. When he informs Goofy that he is heading for dinner at Minnie’s, Goofy, looking up at the apartment window, makes some comments that Mickey interprets as a little off-color about his girlfriend, referring to Minnie as “smokin’” and “on fire”. “Now look here”, Mickey protests. “No, look there”, says Goofy innocently, pointing up toward the building. A trail of black smoke is pouring from the window, punctuated with periodic glimpses of flame. Mickey misdirects his own panic upon the Goof, slapping Goofy repeatedly across the face while saying “Remain calm” – then grabs Goofy’s vest lapels, and shouts hysterically, “Call for help!” Goofy obediently makes a call from the nearest pay phone, while the mouse approaches the foot of the building, at the base of a long set of fire escape steps leading to the top floor apartment. Before ascending, Mickey realizes his duty to also alert other occupants of the building of the impending danger. Spotting an old lady hobbling her way to the front door, Mickey picks her up bodily and points her in the opposite direction, stating “You can’t go in.” He starts his long climb up the stairs, but pokes his head in at every apartment that is occupied, telling them the building’s on fire. One old goat is sound asleep, with visions of sheep above him jumping over a fence. Mickey’s shouts alert the sheep before awakening the goat, with the sheep leaping out of their dream cloud to jump out the window. The old goat is hard of hearing, and interprets “The building is on fire” as “My milk has expired.” Mickey carries him bodily out te window, then screams again at the top of his lungs “the building IS ON FIRE!!!” His shouts alerts dozens of others in the building simultaneously, causing a stampede down the steps, in which Mickey is substantially trampled and driven back to the sidewalk below. The determined mouse revives and starts his ascent again.
Suddenly, a mother pig shouts to him to save her babies. Mickey enters her apartment, then emerges with four piglets painfully nibbling on his person as if suckling on mom, which he transports in mild agony down the steps. A mother shark (?) also calls for assistance with her children. Mickey is forced to fill his pants with water, then carry several small sharks downstairs in the water as if in a goldfish bowl, their dorsal fins menacingly circling Mickey’s most personal areas as he descends the stairs most carefully. A mother rabbit is next to seek his assistance, Her home is packed with wall-to-wall babies. Too much to carry, Mickey comes up with a solution, by breaking off the building a long rain gutter, and slanting it from the landing rail to the street below. The rabbits use the gutter as a slide, providing a fun and easy method to reach the ground. That is, all but one baby, who must have a glandular disorder, appearing to be about 300 pounds. Mickey is barely able to push the “little one” out the window to the landing, and attempts to hold the baby over his head for the descent. He never gets the chance, however, as the baby’s weight collapses the landing, which snaps off the building, taking each subsequent landing and staircase below it along in a pancake effect until the ground is reached. Though the baby is safe, Mickey looks up to see nothing left of the stairs but a three-rung section of ladder hanging from the patio of Minnie’s apartment. Another jet of flame from Minnie’s window heightens the urgency of the dilemma. “I need your help”, calls Mickey to the many he has saved. All the animals form a living tower along the side of the building, and Mickey scrambles up upon them to reach the top. He is only about an arm’s length shy of reaching the ladder – so near, and yet so far. But an extra shove from the 300-pound baby at the base of the tower lifts the pile the requisite extra few feet, and Mickey achieves a hold on the ladder rung. He races up and inside the apartment – to find a repeat performance of “Popeye’s Engine Company”, with Minnie busy over a smoking overheated stove, beside her a book entitled “How to Cook for Beginners”, and a sampler on the wall reading “Don’t Give Up.” “Dinner’s almost ready”, says Minnie, as the perplexed Mickey blankly pulls up a chair at the table. Minnie presents him with a platter full of charcoaled roast turkey, stating “Enjoy.” Mickey cautiously slices off a small morsel about ready to disintegrate into atoms, and with trembling hand attempts to force the food ever closer to his lips – when salvation arrives. “Mick, I brought help!”, shouts Goofy from the apartment door, two fire fighters with a hose standing behind him. The hose is turned on, blasting Mickey and Minnie where they sit at the dinner table. When the water subsides, the turkey is nowhere to be found, presumably blasted out the window. Mickey smiles a hesitant smile to the audience, as if to say, “Thank goodness”, as the film irises out.
In many ways, this episode appears inspired and influenced by Ren and Stimpy’s “Fire Dogs”, but with a difference – crisp timing and sharper gag writing, getting the laughs on cue. Look out, JK – there’s a new kid on the block.
Planes: Fire and Rescue (Disney, 7/18/14) – Dusty Crophopper is now a celebrity. The former crop-duster turned air-racer is headline news after winning his round the world race, and continues to chalk up victories in event after event in the smaller circuits. In everything from speed contests to obstacle races, he excels. His old friends from Propwash Junction are his support team, and provide all the mechanical support and fuel consultation he needs to stay in the winner’s circle. His mentor, the Skipper (a WWII Corsair), is no longer a recluse, but takes Dusty out on daily runs to keep him in training and his reactions sharp. Until one afternoon when, during a routine practice session, Dusty pushes his speed to the limit, and sees a red warning light come on upon his control panel. His engine stalls, and for a few moments, he nearly panics in free fall, just managing to get his engine started again in time to avoid a crash. He reports to his mechanic for a check-up, expecting to hear it was only a fluke and that he is in perfect shape, but receives the bad news. His gear box is wearing out, and was emitting small scraps of metal into his system that activated the warning light. Dusty tries to make light of this, telling his crew to order a new one. His mechanic, however, reminds Dusty of his model’s age, and advises him that the box is out of production, and she hasn’t seen one around in years. While his crew vow to search old part shops for any sign of a replacement, she tells Dusty that he can’t allow himself to push his air speed into the red zone of the gauge again, or he’ll risk a crash. This spells only one thing to Dusty – that he can’t race any more. He tries to nurse his worries that night at a line-dancing saloon for planes and cars called Honkers, where, despite the news that the part search is being conducted among 21 major distributors, Dusty’s mood hits a new low, when his old boss from the crop-dusting business offers him his old job back at minimum starting wage. While his crew insists that Dusty will never stoop to dusting again, Dusty quietly slips away, and tries to test his endurance himself with some solo night flying. The emergency light goes on again, and Dusty desperately tries to compensate. Distracted, he clips an object on the way down, getting shaken up enough that his landing gear doesn’t respond properly as he approaches the runway. He goes into a skid, and slides off the runwau into the base of a tower, toppling it. It impacts tanks below, and a fire erupts. Propwash Junction’s only fire truck (Mayday) hasn’t seen real action for over 50 years, and even has to return to the station before responding, to get his glasses. His hose is full of leaks, and the community’s water pressure is so low, the hose quickly runs out of ammunition. Only one means of providing enough water to stop the flames presents itself – as members of the community unite in a tug of war, to pull the pins out from under the community water tower, toppling its contents onto the blaze.
The next morning, an official truck from TMST (Transportation Management Safety Team) arrives. One of Dusty’s crew has his own interpretation of the letters: “This Means Serious Trouble”. The official hardly classifies toppling a water tower as a regulation plan of action in case of emergency, and decertifies Propwash Junction’s airport until Mayday can be replaced or brought up ro code, and until a second back-up fire-fighting vehicle can be certified. Dusty’s team quickly come up with plans to retrofit Mayday – but where to get a new volunteer, especially with fire season quickly approaching? Dusty, realizing he caused the community’s whole mess, asks Mayday if there is anything he can do, and sees on the wall of the old fire station a photograph taken decades ago of the first water-dropping rescue plane. Dusty realizes this is not dissimilar to the tanks of crop-dusting materials he used to carry, and asks if there is a way he can be certified as the new volunteer. Mayday directs him to a crack instructor named Blade Ranger, headquartered in Piston Peak National Park. Taking off from the main highway to town when the “morning rush” of three tractors clears, Dusty for once watches his acceleration, and proceeds to Piston Peak. At their airstrip, he encounters a variety of aircraft, including a female super-scooper who’s got the hots for him as his “biggest fan”, a Skycrane helicopter who talks in a mystic Native American accent, and a squad of fast-moving tractors whose specialty is to parachute into trouble situations and bulldoze their way through the embers.
The squad leader is Blade Ranger, a large helicopter equipped for dropping fire-retardant. Before formal introductions are halfway through, an alarm sounds for a local brush fire. The team goes into impressive action, as Dusty tags along to get a bird’s-eye view of the retardant drops, daring jumps, and ground work to create a defensive perimeter around the fire. Dusty fails to impress, by flying too close to the action, getting himself sprayed with retardant. After returning Dusty to base and getting him hosed off, Blade orders him to leave, thinking he is just another over-curious tourist – then learns he is the new trainee. Disgusted at what they send him to certify, but encouraged to give him a try when the scooper reminds him that Dusty is a champion air racer, Blade reluctantly orders his mechanic (a forklift) to strip Dusty of his landing gear. Dusty is outfitted with old but safety-checked twin water pontoons, and is impressed at how much taller he’s become. Blade begins to train him in scooping water from the lake. Dusty has trouble with his drops – too high, too low, too soon – prompting Blade to ask the question, “Did your crops die a lot?” Blade also tests him out on low flying, through a box canyon used for a training obstacle course. Dusty finds most of the course a piece of cake, but there is one catch. At the end of the course is a low arch bridge which Dusty must fly underneath, followed by a steep rise as the canyon ends. Dusty is supposed to use maximum acceleration to pull up out of the canyon. But his warning light keeps reminding him to let up on the speed. Blade informs him that if there had been a downdraft, he’d be dead by now, and insists that until he learns to maintain sufficient speed, he won’t pass for certification. Dusty also notes a sort of photograph “wall-of-fame” of other rescue planes inside the hangar, and asks the mechanic what it takes to get on the wall. “Crash”, says the mechanic.
Next morning, Dusty meets the park superintendent – a white RV who is also the owner of the park lodge (the Fu-se-Lodge). The Super operates the rescue squad on a shoestring budget, while 80% of available funds have been funneled into a lodge renovation for a grand reopening. The Super has invited all kinds of VIP’s and packed the lodge and park to over-capacity. Seeing the newcomer among the squad, the Super misidentifies Dusty as his old racing rival, Ripslinger. When he is corrected as to Dusty’s identity, he insists that Dusty pass by the lodge this evening for a high-speed fly-by, and to rub wings with the important guests. On leaving, he casually refers to Dusty’s trainer as “Blazin’ Blade”, prompting Dusty to inquire about the nickname. Several other crew members whisper to him to keep it hush hush, and invite him to a secret meeting in the hangar that night. The planes insert a videotape concealed in a mislabeled box into an old player, and cluster around a TV set. The tape is of an old broadcast of the action show “CHOPS” (take-off on “CHIPS”, where Blaze is starred as Blazin’ Blade Runner. Why is a former TV star now in charge of a rural fire team? It’s an unknown mystery, and none of the attendees are nosy enough to have pried into Blade’s personal reasons for the odd career move.
A lightning storm sets off a series of spot blazes. The crew efficiently creates a containment line, with Dusty finally making an efficient drop upon a key area. The crew heads back to base, intending to mop up next morning, when a large plane full of VIP’s makes a low pass across the sky, on route to the lodge for the grand reopening. The crew and Dusty take a short break to attend the gala, where they chance to meet a couple of old RV’s on their anniversary, trying to locate the spot in the park where they had their first kiss. Dusty directs them to a canyon bridge in the back country of the park. But next day does not bode well, as the crew discovers the VIP plane swept up embers on its low passes, spreading the blaze outside the containment area. A line of fire is headed straight for the lodge, but the Super is unwilling to call for an evacuation, despite concurrence of the air crew, a ground engine, and an old ranger jeep that the fire will reach them in a matter of hours. To make matters worse, Dusty receives a call from his racing team that their last hope for finding his needed gear box proved futile, as the only crate located was mislabeled, with the wrong part. As Blade and Dusty approach the flames. Dusty’s mind wanders, and he fails to follow orders, dropping his retardant too high for any effect. He insists he can reload with water from a river nearby, but fails to calculate the river’s speed and ruggedness, getting himself caught in the rapids. Blade orders him to take off at full speed before reaching the falls, but Dusty’s engine light goes on again, causing him to instinctively slow. He fails to gain enough speed for the ascent, and is about to plummet into the canyon below the falls, when Blade saves his neck by catching him with a tow hook. Blade lowers him to the next clearing, chewing him out for his insubordination, Dusty finally confesses about his gear box problem. Blade pauses, then tells him, “Life doesn’t always go the way you expect it. If you give up today, think of all the lives you won’t be able to save tomorrow.” With the fire approaching too fast to outrun, the two take cover in an old mine shaft, with Blaze doing his best to block the entrance with his own main frame, and let the fire burn over them. The two survive the inferno, but Blade is unable to take off after the firestorm passes, his hydraulics badly damaged from the intense heat. He is hauled back to base by the skycrane, where the mechanic attempts to perform a miracle repair. During his efforts, the mechanic reveals that he is the only one who knows why Blade came here. His co-star on the TV show hit a freak cross-wind and crashed, and Blade stood helpless instead of being able to offer aid, having no idea what to do, despite playing a great rescuer on the air. He gave up acting to devote himself to saving lives for real.
Minus Blaze, the skycrane assumes temporary command, and rather than fight the heart of the fire, the crew turns their attention to compelling the Superintendent to commence the evacuation before peril becomes unavoidable. The Super still resists, until the secret of the danger becomes a secret no longer to the guests, as the fire line breaks its way into view over a nearby ridge. The ranger jeep and fire engine do their best to avoid a panic, directing planes to runways, and cars to the main road out of the park and a cargo train following a similar path. The fire, however, takes another jump, blocking both the road and the train tracks with flaming debris. The crew attempts to reload with water – only to find the water pressure depleted. The Super, unbeknownst to them, has turned on roof sprinklers full force upon the lodge roof, depleting their water supply. Using only what retardant and water remains in their tanks, the crew makes every drop count, and manage to extinguish enough flame for the road and track to be cleared to allow the evacuation. But word comes in of two stragglers left behind – the old RV’s are stranded on the canyon bridge at the other end of the park. Dusty asks permission ro attempt a rescue, being the fastest of the remaining crew. He intends to refill his pontoons in the river below the bridge, but finds it hopelessly filled with burning debris, preventing a clear scoop. He receives some encouragement in discovering he is not alone – Blade has survived his ordeal, and is fresh out of the repair shop, lending a needed hand with his sky hook to support a portion of the bridge about to collapse, while the old RV’s attempt to make their way to the bridge’s other end. But a drop is needed to clear their path. With nowhere else to refill, Dusty performs a gutsy move, taking the chance by pushing his engine to the limit, to scoop up water in a vertical climb up a waterfall. His engine stalls – but he recovers speed just before hitting the ground, and makes the water drop. But his limit has been reached, and all engine lights blink a grave warning. Dusty goes down amidst the trees.
Dusty is hauled by the skycrane back to base. For five days he remains unconscious, while the mechanic attempts once again to work his magic. Dusty finally comes around, as the mechanic tells him how he had to replace his prop, fix a wing, repair fuselage ribs… Dusty knows all this means little, as he brings up “My gear box?” “All fixed! The hardest thing I ever had to do!” The mechanic has done it again, custom building a gear box which he assures Dusty is “better than new”. Dusty returns to Propwash Junction, having earned his certification (while justice is served with the old park Superintendent being replaced by the ranger jeep), and now able to resume his racing speed again, for an air show at the newly-recertified airfield, at which his crew from Piston Falls perform their drop formations as the featured guests, for a high-flying finale.
We’ll close with a cross-section of old PSA’s that haven’t seen much attention in some time. The first is a Smokey Bear commercial reputed to be from the 1950’s, which gives every visual indication of being produced by UPA I’m guessing from its character design that it was directed either by Pete Burness or Robert Cannon. Smokey, from a poster, gives a somewhat less-than-attentive but good-meaning tourist some pointers on making sure cigarettes and campfires are out completely.
A second Smokey (date unknown) has an interesting rustic slant, telling of a disaster caused to an old Western community by a careless wagon train starting a wildfire, then fast-forwarding today to the modern camper, doing the same thing. Animators are unknown, though the narration almost suggests that someone is trying their best to channel the narration style of veteran Western actor Rex Allen in his many voice-overs for Walt Disney.
The National Fire Prevention Association had its own mascot – Sparky, a fire-prevention Dalmatian. He never caught on with the popularity of Smokey, and seems to have appeared in print more than in film. Nevertheless, he had a jingle, as demonstrated in a limited-animation PSA of the early 1960’s, presented here.
And in Canada, a series of PSA’s were created in the 1980’s featuring the Old Woman Who Lived In a Shoe, who in this case “knows what to do” when it comes to dealing with fire – “Do you?” I am unable to determine the origin of these spots, but a likely bet would be the National Film Board of Canada, the animation design seeming close to house style of several of their productions.
I’d say this subject is pretty well burnt out. We’ll cool our heels until next week, when a new trial is sure to provide us with a fresh batch of hot spots.