Compared with Pixar classics, Disney’s ‘Planes’ comes up short
In Disney’s “Planes,” which we’re told comes to us “From Above the World of Cars,” the aforementioned universe expands to include all sorts of airplanes and some mighty ships as well.
Like the autos and trucks in “Cars” (one of Pixar’s lesser efforts) and “Cars 2” (arguably Pixar’s worst film), the planes and ships and ground vehicles in “Planes” (produced under the DisneyToon Studios banner) are anthropomorphic beings, with eyes that shift from side to side and mouths that move when they talk. They have feelings and they have memories — and they “drink” at bars serving oil.
It’s a weird thing. Yes, we are talking about animated movies aimed primarily at a young audience that will marvel at the colorful, swooshing machines and giggle at jokes they may or may not understand. Yet with all three of these movies, you’re left wondering: If there are no people around, why are there buildings and paved roads, and why do the cars and planes and ships occupy the same countries and oceans we know on “regular” Earth? Do high-powered cars and mighty battleships rule various countries?
And how do the generations continue, anyway?
All right. “Planes.” It’s an almost instantly forgettable adventure taking the all-too-familiar animated-pic flight pattern of the underdog that dreams of doing something his kind never does. (See “Finding Nemo,” “Brave,” “Turbo,” “Ratatouille,” “Wreck-It Ralph,” etc.)
In this case our hero is Dusty Crophopper, a crop dusting plane that dreams of competing in a famous around-the-world aerial race. In addition to being hopelessly underpowered, the normally low-flying Dusty has another problem: He’s afraid of heights.
Dusty is voiced by Dane Cook, one of the most polarizing comedian-actors of his generation. Can’t say I’m a fan of Cook’s live-action movie work to date, and that also holds true for his work here. Cook has a reedy voice and a distracting habit of over-enunciating everything, and he sounds like he’s forcing it every time he’s in trouble and he has to say, “Oh no!”
Once Dusty decides to enter the race, we get a whole lot of race and the occasional subplot. Stacy Keach voices Skipper, a legendary but now-grounded naval aviator that supposedly flew dozens of missions in World War II. (There was a World War II in the “Cars” and “Planes” universe?) In one flashback, we learn some tragic truths about Skipper’s past, accompanied by the type of celestial “mass deaths occurring” music we usually hear in a Michael Bay movie. It’s jarringly out of place for this otherwise lighthearted and sweet-natured film.
We also get a couple of romances — but the primary love story isn’t about Dusty. It’s about a Mexican plane named El Chupacabra that has a crush on a plane named Rochelle. “Planes” takes time out from all the swooping and soaring flying sequences for El Chupacabra to serenade Rochelle with a unique version of the Miracles’ “Love Machine.”
Brad Garrett does terrific work voicing Dusty’s loyal best friend Chug (he’s a fuel truck). Roger Craig Smith puts some nice spins on his lines as the evil Ripslinger, a legendary plane that doesn’t take kindly to this upstart crop duster stealing his thunder. Teri Hatcher, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, John Cleese and Cedric the Entertainer are among the talents who do perfectly adequate work playing minor, thinly sketched characters.
Directed by Klay Hall and scripted by Jeffrey M. Howard, “Planes” moves along quickly at a running time of 92 minutes, occasionally taking flight with some pretty nifty flight sequences. The animation is first-rate, and the CorningWare colors are soothing eye candy.
I just think it’s a nearly impossible task to infuse planes and ships (and for the most part, cars) with enough personality, enough depth, enough heart to earn them a place alongside the lions and toys and fish and ogres and, yes, even humans who have headlined the best animated films of the last 30 years.