By Dan Metcalf, Jr.
Clipper Film Correspondent
Rated PG for some mild action and rude humor.
Starring (voices of) 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.
Written by Jeffrey M. Howard.
Directed by Klay Hall.
Pixar still rules the computer-generated animation world, which can be attributed to the fact that they practically invented the feature film making method. They also created new, three-dimensional imaginative, loveable characters, some of which have inspired spinoffs and sequels. For a while, it seemed the Pixar folks could do no wrong – until a few less-than favorably reviewed (Cars and Cars II) and at least one less-than successful box office performer (Ratatouille). Even with these slight bumps in the road, Pixar managed to follow up with the brilliant Up, Wall-E, Toy Story 3 and most recently Brave, all of which won Oscars for best animated feature film (So did Ratatouille, despite its lower-than-expected box office). When another Cars sequel involving airplanes was suggested by the short film Air Mater (part of a series of shorts included in “Mater's Tall Tales”), Pixar pulled out and let Disney do all the heavy lifting, along with executive producer John Lasseter, who kind of runs both DisneyToon Studios and Pixar (it's complicated, I know). Planes was supposed to be a direct-to-video release this fall, but Lasseter and others convinced Disney execs the finished product would be good enough for theatrical release. As a critic, I'm not sure they made the right choice, but it will probably make a ton of money for the studio, especially considering the popularity among children of the Cars franchise. Heck, they even made an entire “land” based on the success of Cars in Disneyland. I went last year with my kids, and you had to wait several hours for most rides there. I still don't get it, but kids do.
Dane Cook voices Dusty Crophopper, a small crop-dusting plane in a rural area. Despite his agrarian existence, Dusty dreams of being a racing plane and competing in a famous aerial race around the world. His problem? He's a crop duster without a racing engine and he stands little to no chance of qualifying for the race until Skipper (Stacy Keach), an old WWII F4U Corsair agrees to train him. A fueling truck named Chug (Brad Garett) and his mechanic/forklift Dottie (Teri Hatcher) also help out. With determination and a little luck, Dusty qualifies, and the race begins.
During the race, Dusty befriends El Chupacabra (Carlos Alazraqui) and an Indian beauty named Ishani (Priyanka Chopra). Dusty's biggest rival is the all-time world race champ Ripslinger (Roger Craig Smith), who does all he can to thwart Dusty's dreams before the big finale.
Planes is not a great film by Pixar standards, but it's likeable enough for little kids who love planes, cars and other vehicles. It would have done fine in a direct-to-video release, but it will make a lot more money for Disney in theaters, so good for them. Not being a big fan of the Cars franchise to begin with, I wasn't expecting much from Planes, and even less so when it was released without the Pixar seal of approval. In fact, there is not one single reference to the Cars films or characters, making me wonder if Pixar and Disney are still on good terms. Either way, it's not the worst film a parent could sit through with their kids, but it's not a film adults would see on their own. The voice casting doesn't exactly have a lot of star power either (Dane Cook?), with the possible exception of cameos by Val Kilmer and Anthony Edwards as two Navy fighter jets who come to Dusty's aid (Top Gun – get it?).
The Planes story has a predictable outcome, and follows an all-too-familiar a rags-to-riches format that may work for kids, but it won't win any Oscars, or the hearts of parents. If you miss it in theaters, don't worry - it will eventually come out on video – just as planned.