Theme: The New Heart
During his time at Pixar Animation Studio John Lassiter was the creative genius behind the smash hits: Toy Story, Cars, and Monster’s Inc. His idea was to beautifully animate inanimate objects (toys, cars) and mythological creatures (monsters), put them into a story and in a subversive way reveal the fears and foibles of human beings. By using something “less than” a “real person” he could disarm the human intellect with its reason, enter the human heart and deposit profound truth. It is obvious from Disney’s new movie Planes: Fire and Rescue that Lassiter, the Executive Producer, is continuing to use his successful Pixar blueprint. On the surface Planes may seem like a cute Disneyesque “teach kids good morals” type movie; but underneath it is a whole other story!
Planes: Fire and Rescue is the story of a soul leaving the pretend world of the false self; passing through fire, being rescued to enter a “better than new” life and become a new creation. This is a true salvation story.
The Gear Box
The movie opens with the star, Dusty Crophopper, at the pinnacle of success. He is an acclaimed racing celebrity and is flying high. Until one night while flying, something deep inside Dusty begins to breakdown (the scenes of this are some of the best in the film). The diagnosis is he has pushed himself too hard and his gear box is failing. This is a part that cannot be replaced, it is out of production…discontinued…done. All he can do now is back off and quit racing.
The gear box is a metaphor for the human heart. Dusty’s condition represents not only physical heart failure but heart failure that comes with being deemed “over the hill”, “obsolete”, “no longer in general use”. Fear of not being able to stay at the top engulfs Dusty and leads him into anger.
The Caldron of Anger
The only position offered to Dusty at the moment is to go back to crop dusting. How does a world renowned racer go back to his humble beginning is the question being asked. Well he doesn’t; his pride turns to anger. He goes out to fly, pushes himself into the danger zone and with red lights flashing almost crashes at the Propwash Junction Airport. Dusty’s antics start a fire Mayday and crew only get control of by extreme measures. The Transportation Management Safety Team arrives for an inspection which closes the airport and makes Mayday feel old, tarnished, and antiquated himself. Dusty’s anger at not being able to do what he wants to do and stay where his ego is constantly fed has created a fire that not only burns within but spills over onto the lives of others with tragic consequences. The philosopher Dallas Willard writes, “Anger embraced is, accordingly, inherently disintegrative of human personality and life. It does not have to be specifically “acted out” to poison the world. Because of what it is and the way it seizes upon the body and its environment just by being there, it cannot be hidden.
The Way Out
The first step out of this angry false self is always confession and repentance. Dusty confesses to the TMST leader I did this, I made this mess; but it isn’t enough to prevent the airport closing. Something else is needed; another firefighter is now going to be required for the airport to be certified and reopened.
When Dusty sees the heart break his anger and actions have caused his friend Mayday he makes a complete one hundred and eighty degree turn. “Why don’t I become the second firefighter?” Dusty moves from self-love and self-assertion and turns toward what is good for the whole community. This is the true meaning of repentance; a radical turn from one way of life to another.
In order to be trained and certified for firefighting Dusty must leave Propwash Junction and go to Piston Peak National Park to be trained by Blade Ranger and his crew. He leaves his ordinary world where he is special and enters a special world where the ordinary are special. Everything is turned upside down in this world:
- They don’t know what the word new means: they makes use of old pontoons
- The wall of fame is achieved by crashing not by celebrity.
- They risk their lives for people they don’t know.
- They cannot operate on their own: they are a team, each with unique ways of fighting fire.
Dusty has much to learn but his greatest obstacles are the voice of fear which keeps telling him he will crash and the pride he has in covering up his failing gear box. Fear and pride push him into rebellion and disobedience which once again has dire consequences for those around him.
The Innermost Cave
Dusty is allowed to help fight the giant fire endangering the National Park against Blade Ranger’s better judgment. And sure enough Dusty goes it alone, refuses to obey and gets into troubled water. It takes all Blade Ranger can do to get him out and by that time the fire is about to overtake them. The only hope is taking shelter in an abandoned mine. Forcing Dusty into the mine Blade yells at him, “This isn’t about you…its life or death” which prompts the angry Dusty to admit, “I never wanted to be a Firefighter; my gear box is busted that’s why I pulled up!” The truth comes out at last ….I am a broken plane.
Blade Ranger’s response is not pity its truth. “Life doesn’t always go the way you expect. You give up today, think of all the lives you won’t save tomorrow”. In other words get out of your self-pity and live to help others. At this point the fire crashes down on the mine. Blade Ranger shields Dusty with his own body; crushing and marring his side. He has sacrificed himself to save the little crop hopper.
Blade Ranger is lifted to base by Windlifter, and while Maru takes care of him he tells Dusty Blade’s story. He used to be an actor on a TV show until a routine day when he lost his best friend to a freak crosswind, he didn’t give up, and he got trained and certified. He used to pretend to save lives and now he does it for real.
Having been saved by Blade Ranger, Dusty now has the opportunity to help Blade rescue an elderly couple who have been trapped in a canyon by the fire. Fear, pride, and rebellion have no place in Dusty now; he willingly pushes himself beyond what the old gear box can handle. Winnie and Harvey are saved; but Dusty crashes to the ground. The screen goes totally black.
Resurrection???? How do you know Dusty isn’t just repaired…fixed….restored? You know by what Maru says: it was the most difficult thing he had ever done. He didn’t just give Dusty a new gear box…he gave him “a better than new” gear box. Dusty now has a gear box of a different kind, a gear box that will never wear out! He is quite simply a special kind of plane.
Every Hero Journey ends with the hero returning home. He has been transformed by the journey and this transformation now brings new life to the old community. Planes: Fire and Rescue ends with the life giving waters of Piston Peak being poured out over Propwash Junction……everything is made new and now the real festival can begin!
The New Heart
Planes: Fire and Rescue is a parable about Life and Death. Every human being is born with a mortal body that will eventually break down like Dusty’s gear box. These bodies are tied to the Old Creation which is passing away. What is needed is a new life, a new body, a new heart of a different kind; one that is without sin, one which is part of the New Creation. The promise of the New Covenant is quite simply this . . . ”God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life”. (John 3:16) For those who are “in Christ” they have become part of the New Creation….they no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose on their behalf. They become part of a special community uniquely gifted to serve others sacrificially. For them the “sting of death“ has been removed; the victory has been won.
And He who sits on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new”. And He said, “Write for these words are faithful and true.”
And He said to me, “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give to the one who thirsts from the spring of the water of life without cost.
He who overcomes shall inherit these things, and I will be his God and he will be My son.”
Revelation 21: 5-7