Disneys' 'Planes' aims far too low.
Although the "Cars" movies rank relatively low in the estimation of most Pixar devotees, they are known to occupy a special place in the heart of exec producer John Lasseter (chief creative officer of both Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios), and "Planes" does have some of the rural American charm of the first "Cars" and the globe-trotting sweep of the second. What it doesn't have, in the hands of director Klay Hall and scribe Jeffrey M. Howard, is the sophisticated story sense and visual pizzazz of even a middling Pixar effort.
The film was slated for direct-to-video release this fall, and while its upgrade to the theatrical big leagues stands to fill Mouse House coffers several times over, the result feels like a smallscreen quickie through and through.
A Creamsicle-colored single-propeller plane who spends his days spreading something called Vitaminamulch across the same stretch of Midwest cornfield, Dusty Crophopper (voiced by comedian-actor Dane Cook) dreams of a more exciting, less agriculture-focused life as a high-flying racer plane. Although he's roundly mocked by his bigger, shinier rivals, Dusty is speedier than he looks and, after wowing the spectators at a local tryout, succeeds in landing the coveted final spot in a prestigious race around the world.
So far, so smooth. But "Planes" takes a major dip once the race begins and Dusty starts making his way east from New York. With the exception of the smug, unscrupulous Ripslinger (Roger Craig Smith), a world-champion racer determined to hold onto his title at any cost, Dusty's rivals almost all hail from different countries. There's Bulldog (John Cleese), a stuffy, emotionless Brit; Rochelle (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), a sleek, dainty French-Canadian; Ishani (Priyanka Chopra), a striking Indian beauty who becomes an exotic love interest for Dusty; and El Chupacabra (Carlos Alazraqui), a chubby, boisterous Mexican who's also a wrestler, telenovela star and recording artist. By the time El Chupacabra serenades Rochelle with a makeshift mariachi band, the rampant stereotyping has long exceeded the limits of what's cute and acceptable for an ostensibly innocuous family entertainment. At the very least, it makes for a dispiritingly repetitive, one-joke movie.
If the humor is often in questionable taste, the dramatic beats play it far safer, throwing in a few supporting-character twists that momentarily shake Dusty's faith in his comrades, but ultimately setting the brave little cropduster on a clear path to fulfilling his dreams, overcoming his fears, and realizing the value and meaning of friendship. It's pleasant, life-affirming stuff, unlikely to rattle the foundations of any but the youngest tots in the audience.
Cook delivers a solid, capable turn as a loyal, good-hearted plane who often veers from overconfidence to insecurity, although there's little he and his fine co-stars can do to deepen viewer investment in these chrome-and-steel characters, never the easiest individuals to warm to even when there's a decent script involved.
Planes Director: Klay Hall
Voices: Dane Cook, Stacy Keach
CREDITS: A Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures release of a Disney presentation. PRODUCED BY Traci Balthazor-Flynn. EXECUTIVE PRODUCER. John Lasseter. CO-PRODUCER, Ken Tsumura. DIRECTED BY Klay Hall. SCREENPLAY. Jeffrey M. Howard; ORIGINAL STORY, John Lasseter, Hall, Howard. (COLOR, 3D); EDITOR. Jeremy Milton; MUSIC, Mark Mancina; EXECUTIVE MUSIC SUPERVISOR, Matt Walker; MUSIC SUPERVISOR, Brett Swain; ART DIRECTOR, Ryan Carlson; ANIMATION DIRECTOR. Sheryl Sardina Sackett; HEAD OF STORY. Dan Abraham; SOUND DESIGNERS/SUPERVISING SOUND EDITORS (DOLBY ATMOS/DATASAT), Todd Toon, Rob Nokes; RE-RECORDING MIXERS, David E. Fluhr, Adam Jenkins; ASSOCIATE PRODUCERS, Tony Cosanella, Kip Lewis; CASTING, Jason Henkel. REVIEWED AT the Landmark, Los Angeles, July 27, 2013. RUNNING TIME: 91 MIN. VOICES: Dane Cook, Stacy Keach, Brad Garrett, Teri Hatcher, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Priyanka Chopra, John Cleese, Cedric the Entertainer, Carlos Alazraqui, Roger Craig Smith, Anthony Edwards, Val Kilmer, Sinbad, Gabriel Iglesias, Brent Musburger, Colin Cowherd, Danny Mann, Oliver Kalkofe, John Ratzenberger.