Seeing Something of Myself in a “Boy” Disney Movie


Most of my screen time is spent watching shows and movies meant for kids. I am well-versed in the Phineas and Ferb universe. I have strong opinions about there being only one girl puppy in Paw Patrol. I can tell you how the man in the yellow hat exhibits extraordinary patience in Curious George, and that in a fit of frustration with my toddler I wished I could be more like him. I can quote The Lorax, Rio, Despicable Me, Cars and Frozen without trying. I will shut down viewing of any show I think is just rubbish, but I try to see what good there may be. So, when I went to go see Planes: Fire and Rescue in the movie theater, I was glad there was enough I could appreciate.

The protagonist crop-duster, Dusty Crophopper, spent the first Planes movie learning how to believe in himself and become a famous and successful aerial racer. He accomplishes his dream, and presumably will spend the rest of his life as a racer with greater and greater success. However, at the very beginning of the second movie Dusty has discovered that his gearbox is close to complete failure. It cannot be replaced or repaired. This sudden disability will prevent him from ever racing at competitive speeds again.

I didn’t expect to see that.

Dusty, reeling from being told he has limitations he needs to accept, defies medical advice and ends up seriously injuring himself. He keeps holding out hope that someone will be able to fix his gearbox, or find a new one, only to have his hopes dashed again and again. When he decides that he will go through training to become his town’s second certified fire fighter, he is stifled by his new limitations again and cannot keep himself from being distracted by his disability. Trying to find a new purpose in his life, adjusting his expectations of what his life will be and finding he might not be able to do this new job adequately, either, is overwhelming.

I don’t ever remember seeing a kids’ movie or show that explored what a person coping with a new diagnosis or medical problem might be feeling, or the mistakes they might make.

I have gone through nearly all of the emotions that Dusty has gone through, since being diagnosed with fibromyalgia. I have, in the past, decided to ignore medical advice and have pretended I was okay only to crash and burn. I have held out hope that maybe I actually had some other illness that could be somehow “fixed” or that there would be some miracle cure that would make me feel normal again. I’ve been unsure if I would ever be well enough to teach again. When I set my sights lower, thinking perhaps I could be a teacher’s aide, I felt unsure if I would be capable enough even for that. My boys have seen me go through it, though they wouldn’t be able to articulate it. Now they have a character and a movie I can refer back to when I need them to understand where I am coming from.

By the end of the movie, Dusty does get a custom-built, better-than-before gearbox. He is able, then, to fight epic fires and race, doing both jobs very successfully. I was a little disappointed that the writers didn’t trust that Dusty could still have a happy ending with a faulty gearbox. But, that they showed a character struggle with the new reality that a medical problem can bring, I was happy with that. I could probably be easily convinced to watch it again.

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