USA — It’s been decades since Erik Estrada rocked his motorcycle as Frank “Ponch” Poncherello in the classic 1980s television show CHiPs (California Highway Patrol).
But Estrada is back in the animated film Planes: Fire & Rescue (out July 18) voicing Nick “Loop’n” Lopez – the star of a television show called CHoPs (California Helicopter Patrol).
Estrada is one of a squadron of new voice characters announced by Disney studios for the sequel to 2013’s Planes.
Fire & Rescue newbies include Ed Harris (search-and-rescue helicopter Blade Ranger), Wes Studi (a heavy-lift helicopter Windlifter), Regina King (Dynamite, the head smoke-jumper vehicle) and Fred Willard (the Secretary of the Interior in utility-vehicle form).
Julie Bowen (as a water-scooping plane Dipper) also joins Dane Cook, who reprises his lead-voice role as Dusty Crophopper from the original.
The animated sequel centers around a team of firefighting machines in Piston Peak National Park, while Estrada’s Lopez is the daredevil star of the crew’s favorite TV show.
“I’ve traded in my bike for a helicopter, and it’s a cute helicopter,” says Estrada. “(The filmmakers) wanted me in there. They wanted to capture the CHiPs spirit. It’s a story about becoming a true hero.”
This sequel follows the crop-dusting plane Dusty after his unlikely, but successful, around-the-globe race. Now he enters the dangerous world of forest firefighting. Director Bobs Gannaway says there is precedent for crop dusting planes to fight fires.
Fitting for the perpetual underdog, even in real life these Single Engine Air Tanker (SEAT) planes are “the smallest in the wildfire air attack fleets,” says Gannaway.
The filmmakers brought in voice actors who resembled the other screen machines personalities – such as real-life couple Jerry Stiller and Anne Meara (as longtime married Winnebago trailers Harvey and Winnie) and Marine/actor Dale Dye as a curmudgeon ex-military transport plane Cabbie.
“We’d tell Dale the scene circumstances and he’d just go and give readings more fantastic than we could ever come up with,” says producer Ferrell Barron. “All family-friendly, of course.”
Estrada was a voice addition adult viewers would appreciate. “Maybe the younger generation will not know him, but they will be entertained,” says Gannaway.
Estrada points out that the film is a reunion of sorts. Four-time Oscar nominee Harris guest-starred on an episode of CHiPs during his early career in the show’s prime-time run. “I remember (Harris) asked me ‘How do I ride this bike?’ I said, ‘It’s easy man,’ ” Estrada recalls. “Keep it ina first or second gear and just go slow.”
Estrada, 64, was the biggest hit of the voice recording studio, posing for pictures with “every person in the building,” including a starstruck co-star King. “The producer said the building didn’t go that berserk for anyone else,” says Estrada.
It’s not surprising since Estrada, who appeared in the ’80s reunion RadioShack Super Bowl commercial, still can strut.
“I’m Latin, I’m well-lubed,” says Estrada, going vehicular to describe his age-preservation secrets. “And I color my hair.”