It’s kind of like “Cars,” but in the air.
No, but really.
Set in — well, above — “The world of ‘Cars,’” it also features a vehicle being coached by a crotchety older vehicle in a tiny town before a big race (is racing the only thing vehicles do?), wherein the chief competitor wears a lime green paint job and tries to injure our hero to prevent it from winning. But there are a few differences (and not just that one takes place in the air). First, this is strictly a Disney production — no Pixar. And where “Cars” is a story of a hotshot who gets a side of humility and straightens his priorities while he hones his skills, “Planes” is a quintessential underdog tale.
Dusty Crophopper (voiced by Dane Cook) is, as his name might imply, a crop duster, but has aspirations of becoming a great racer. Aided by his dim but loyal friend Chug (voiced by Brad Garrett) and patched up by ace mechanic Dottie (voiced by Teri Hatcher), he races in the Wings Across the World Race trails and, miraculously, just barely squeaks in. Realizing the magnitude of the race he’s just entered, he seeks the help of Skipper (voiced by Stacy Keach), a World War II veteran who seems to have a war story for every tip he gives Dusty.
Although he qualified for the race, Dusty has a hard time convincing the other competitors he does deserve to fly with them. But slowly, thanks to his down-home sensibilities and willingness to lend a hand (uh, wing), he starts making friends and winning over critics, including El Chupacabra (voiced by Carlos Alazraqui), Bulldog (voiced by John Cleese), Rochelle (voiced by Julia Louise-Dreyfus) and Ishanti (voiced by Priyanka Chopra).
Not among his fans are Ripslinger (voiced by Roger Craig Smith) and his goons, Ned and Zed (both voiced by Gabriel Iglesias). As Dusty begins to creep up in the standings, Ripslinger takes more and more drastic tactics to make sure he wins and that Dusty goes back to the farm — or worse. On top of all this, it turns out that Dusty is terrified of heights.
“Planes” and “Cars” are linked on the movie poster and every other scrap of marketing, so I don’t think it’s a stretch to say they weren’t exactly going for earth-shattering originality here. The world is familiar — hey, look at those tractor-cows! — and the story kind of is, too. Dusty is more immediately likable than Lightening McQueen, but also doesn’t have the growth that Lightening had. I guess the point is supposed to be that he has enough heart to overcome his lowly state and rise to greatness, which inspires other vehicles who want to be something better than what they are, but there’s never a doubt of how things will end. The supporting cast is also nice, but Chug is no Mater, Skipper is no Doc and Dottie is no…hmm. I guess there’s no direct comparison for her.
It’s probably not fair to compare “Cars” and “Planes” straight across, but I wouldn’t have to if I didn’t feel like they were really similar and that they wanted everybody to know it.
I’ve heard “Planes” was originally intended to be a straight-to-DVD release or otherwise meant to continue the franchise outside of the theater, but those plans were changed late in the game. I believe it. There’s a sequel scheduled for next year, about fire and rescue planes, which I actually think might be a more engaging story than this one. I mean, this is cute and all, but it’s a little thin.
Still, I have a feeling this is just the kind of movie that my 6-year-old car-and-plane-obsessed cousin would go ape for. And I guess it’s him, not his parents, that Disney is really marketing it to, anyway.
Time: 91 minutes