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article imageBlu-ray/DVD Essentials: Erik Estrada on 'Planes: Fire & Rescue' Special

By Earl Dittman     Oct 29, 2014 in Entertainment
The legendary Latino actor best known for his role on 'CHiPs' talks about his animated "Ponch" alter-ego in the animated 'Planes: Fire & Rescue.' Estrada also recalls his groundbreaking move to introduce a positive Hispanic role model to primetime TV.
This past summer, television icon Erik Estrada — the star of the long-running landmark series CHiPs (1977-1983) — had a chance to demonstrate his diverse talents when he lent his voice to Disney's 3D computer-animated, high-flying comedy adventure Planes: Fire & Rescue. In the heart-pumping, laugh-filled follow-up to last year's smash hit Planes, world famous racer Dusty Crophopper joins an elite fire and rescue unit in a comedy adventure. Together, the fearless team battles a wildfire at Piston Peak National Park, and Dusty learns what it takes to become a true hero.
In Planes: Fire & Rescue, Estrada adds his voice and famous CHiPs' "Ponch" personality to the animated character of Nick "Loop'n" Lopez, a helicopter television star who appears on the fictional crime fighting series CHoPs (California Helicopter Patrol). "It was incredibly fun playing a helicopter police officer," the 65-year-old actor of Puerto Rican descent explains. "The fact that I was able to use the voice of a character I love — Officer Frank Pancharelli — in Planes: Fire & Rescue made it a blast."
Planes: Fire & Rescue (available on Blu-ray, DVD and HD on November 4) is a comedy-adventure about second chances, featuring a dynamic crew of elite firefighting aircraft devoted to protecting historic Piston Peak National Park from raging wildfire. When world-famous air racer Dusty (voice of Dane Cook) learns that his engine is damaged and he may never race again, he must shift gears and is launched into the world of aerial firefighting. Dusty joins forces with veteran fire-and-rescue helicopter Blade Ranger (voice of Ed Harris) and his courageous team, including spirited air tanker Dipper (voice of Julie Bowen), heavy-lift helicopter Windlifter (voice of Wes Studi), ex-military transport Cabbie (voice of Captain Dale Dye) and a lively bunch of brave all-terrain vehicles known as The Smokejumpers.
Do you enjoy doing animated voiceovers like Nick 'Loop'n' Lopez in Planes: Fire & Rescue? "Totally. It's incredible work and it's exciting stuff. You have to create and basically roll a movie in your head. But, I always wanted to work with Disney. And, when they said that they wanted me to use my voice as Ponch, from CHiPs, as a helicopter, I was thrilled. It was a lot of hard work, but it was a lot of fun."
Was it difficult doing a voiceover for an animated character after a career spent doing live acting in series like CHiPs and films like Loaded Weapon 1? "No, not really, because I've done a lot of dubbing over the years, especially for the CHiPs series. So, I was pretty used to it. Also, I did Sealab 2021. Doing a Disney film like this was a real honor. It's incredible looking. With animation, they create the faces — the smile, the eyes, the expressions — and they make it visually work. It was my job to make it work with the intonations in my voice. I have to say, they did an excellent job with this movie, because the eyes and the expressions of my character are so similar to what I would have done."
Nick  Loop n  Lopez from  Planes: Fire & Rescue
Nick "Loop'n" Lopez from 'Planes: Fire & Rescue'
Disney
How long did you work on Planes: Fire & Rescue? "I only worked on it a couple of days. That's the other good thing about doing animation, you just go in, do the best you can and have fun. You don't even have to shower."
A project like Planes: Fire & Rescue has introduced you to a whole new generation of fans. Do you still have a whole lot of folks remember you from your past work? "Most definitely. Mainly, because I have been around so long and been in so many different things. But, the wonderful thing is that adults know who I am, and now the children know me as a helicopter. So, I always tell the parents, 'If the kids love me in Planes, take them home and play them a couple of CHiPs reruns. That way, they'll love me as a policeman and a helicopter.'"
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Disney
Are there plans for another Planes sequel featuring Nic? "Not yet, but let's hope. I'd love to reprise my role. I really enjoyed being a part of the movie. So, I'm really ready to do another one."
As an actor, a lot of people will always admire you for being the first positive male Latino character on network television through your role on CHiPs. How did that come about? "When I auditioned for CHiPs it was as an Italian-American cop called Poncharelli. When I got the role I changed the name to Poncherello and I made him a Hispanic-American for primetime, family-hour television. Up to then, there hadn't been any positive, realistic Hispanic roles. In a lot of ways, it opened up the door for actors like Jimmy Smits, Edward James Olmos and Hector Elizondo to work in a television series and portray a positive image."
So, it was a very deliberate and conscious decision on your part? "Very much so, because up to that then I was always the Latino with the gun or knife. I was always the Mexican bad guy, and I wanted that to change. So, I made it happen."
Erik Estrada in  CHiPS  in the late- 70s
Erik Estrada in 'CHiPS' in the late-'70s
NBC/MGM
What do you watch on television and at the movies these days? "On TV, I watch The Voice, because my brother-in-law is the musical director, and I love it. I think it is a great show. It's got everything. It has drama, action, sadness, excitement and a whole lotta love. It has so many emotions, and, of course, music. I watch The Voice, I watch a lot of HBO and National Geographic. I vote on the Oscars, so I watch all the movie screeners that they send me. I always find something exciting to watch."
What still excites you about show business? "I just love the process of going out and doing a different job every time — doing something new, exciting and challenging. I love being part of something exciting and something I really want to be involved in. The next thing, whatever it is, always keeps this job fresh and interesting for me."
The vocal talent cast of  Planes: Fire & Rescue : Ed Harris  Patrick Warburton  Fred Willard  Wes St...
The vocal talent cast of 'Planes: Fire & Rescue': Ed Harris, Patrick Warburton, Fred Willard, Wes Studi, Stacy Keach, Dale Dye, Erik Estrada, Danny Mann, Julie Bowen, Barry Corbin, Dane Cook and Hal Holbrook
Disney
What is the best advice you'd give a young person — of any color or nationality — who wants to have a successful, long-lasting career like yours? "The number one piece of advice would be to study the craft. Next, study the different methods of the craft and then try to reach them by adding something of who you are and how you are, at this point in your life. As you grow as a person, you'll grow as an actor. After the studying, you need to get out there and make it happen. If you live in the middle of Wyoming you are not going to be able to go to auditions in New York or California. You need to go to where the work is. Come out to California, get a room and get a job at night so that you can audition during the day. You can do like I did — work for an auto car company. Working for them, I was able to use their cars to go to auditions during the day. You gotta chase it, you gotta be aggressive. You have to constantly reinvent yourself, stay healthy and keep your head screwed on straight."
Before I let you go I have to know, if you could play any animated character who would you like to be? "I think I want to be one of those new superheroes. I'd love to get into that. I think I'd really enjoy adding my voice to a superhero."
It would be an easy job for you, because in a lot of ways you are a superhero in real life. "Thanks, that's very kind."
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Disney
Planes: Fire & Rescue Bonus (Blu-ray + DVD + UltraViolet) Features: Exclusive Animated Short - "Vitaminamulch: Air Spectacular"; "Welcome to Piston Peak!" - this mock-umentary promotional piece shows off all the highlights of the acclaimed Piston Peak National Park and its aerial firefighting team; "CHoPs" TV Promo - an in-world TV promo with announce; "Air Attack: Firefighters From The Sky" - this high-energy, music-driven behind-the-scenes piece takes an inside look at the real smoke jumpers and firefighters who attack wildfires from the air as director Roberts Gannaway and producer Ferrell Barron take us through their journey in making the film; Spencer Lee Music Video "Still I Fly"; Deleted Scenes with Filmmaker Introductions: "Honkers" & "Dusty's Dream No More"; Animated Shorts: "Dipper" & "Smokejumpers" and Exclusive DMA Discover Content: Animated Shorts: "Blade Ranger" "Piston Peak." (Available November 4, 2014)
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Lionsgate
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Film Movement
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Lionsgate
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Acorn
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Lionsgate
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Universal
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Universal
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Lionsgate
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Lionsgate
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Universal
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Lionsgate
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