Starring: Dane Cook, Stacey Keach, Brad Garrett
Directed by: Klay Hall (“Tinker Bell and the Lost Treasure”)
Written by: Jeffrey M. Howard (“Tinker Bell”)
You can guess where Disney’s “Planes” is going and how it’ll get there, but because it flies just beyond the clouds – and avoids the rough turbulence – the ride has its moments. Parents are correct if they think they’ve seen this movie before. There’s a generic underdog storyline and an inspiring lead character. Fortunately for “Planes,” the film also comes with an important message every child can benefit from. For parents who are worried about what their kids are watching these days, “Planes” is about as safe as you can get for a PG-rated movie.
Initially created as a spin-off to Pixar’s “Cars” and set to be released as a straight-to-DVD film by Disneytoons (Tinkerbell movies), it wasn’t a big shocker when Disney decided to spare it from ending up in the $5 bin a year from now and capitalize on its market value (toys, video games, etc.) and guaranteed cash flow.
Cropdusting Dusty (Dane Cook) might have some big dreams to enter a round-the-world race, but his chances are pretty slim considering his speed and the fact he is constantly being told he can’t succeed (“Turbo” anyone?). With the support of his friends Dottie, the forklift “mechanic” (Teri Hatcher), Chug, “the fuel truck” (Brad Garret), and the guidance of his heroic war veteran/Navy Corsair coach Skipper (Stacy Keach), he tries out for a spot in the Global Plane Competition. Falling just short of the qualifying spot, Dusty is informed a couple of days later that because of illegal practices by the last qualifier he is now eligible to compete. Dismissed as a joke by all of his competition, Dusty focuses his energy on becoming a better competitor, gradually gaining him more fame and support than hot shot, all-time champ, Ripslinger (Roger Craig Smith). Along the way, he makes a few friends, including suave wannabe ladies’ airplane, El Chupacabra or “El Chu” (Carlos Alazraqui).
Filling the spot for the funny secondary characters every animated film is notorious for having nowadays, (Mub and Grub from “Epic,” the Minions from the “Despicable Me” franchise, and Belt the Sloth from “The Croods”), El Chupacabra steps up to the challenge with his thick Mexican accent, infamous cape and his love for the chicas. More specifically, El Chu is trying to win the heart of French-Canadian goody two-shoes plane, Rochelle (Julia Louis-Dreyfus). One of the best scenes of the film comes when Dusty helps El Chu out by setting him up to sing a Mexican-style serenade of “I’m Just a Love Machine.” As possibly the best serenade ever in an animated film, “Planes” gets props for the memorable musical interlude.
The 7-country competition course in “Planes” sanctions for some stunningly bright colored visuals and with its sporadic and swift POV shots, the 3D animation is enjoyable but not essential. Thanks to the identical looking “Cars” world portrayed on screen and the many characters from the 2006 and 2011 Pixar movies that came before, it’s possible you walk out of “Planes” thinking you just saw the last film of the “Cars” trilogy. Let’s hope Disney find a way to allow the inevitable sequel to stand on its own and not use sister studio Pixar as a crutch.