Planes may exist in the world of Cars, but make no mistake: Klay Hall’s film is no Pixar title. Hailing from sister company DisneyToons, whose specialty is direct-to-DVD Disney sequels, it was originally planned solely for home viewing before being promoted for a big screen run. Despite piggybacking on Lightning McQueen & Co., the aviation tale does a fine impersonation of the elite animation studio by delighting the entire family, most of whom don’t care about production specifics. For its many classic cinematic pleasures, the film proves itself worthy of theatrical presentation and largely avoids feeling like the calculated, manipulative money grab that it still very well may be.
A straightforward underdog sports story, except with talking vehicles instead of tough-luck humans, the film centers on Dusty Crophopper (voiced by Dane Cook), a crop duster with ambitions of winning the Wings Across the World race. Naturally, naysayers around him discourage such hopes and urge him to accept who he is, advice that’s promptly ignored. If that premise sounds familiar, it’s pretty much what the abysmal Turbo attempted a few weeks back. The difference is that Planes has the good sense to commit to its fantasy world and put its own twist on these athletic mainstays, an approach that consistently produces the intended cheerful results.
Present are the requisite crusty old coach figure (Stacy Keach, doing his best Paul Newman impersonation), a training montage, and a first date sequence with a love interest, found here in fellow competitor Ishani (Priyanka Chopra). While few surprises arise in the story, which has the added disadvantage of mimicking Cars 2’s worldwide race concept, a good deal of freshness nonetheless comes through in the details of this particular world.
Since tractors stand in for cattle, when the race has its India leg, the ubiquitous machinery is appropriately present and inspires talk of recycling and coming back as these sacred entities. Utilizing the rich potential of the global setting, Planes has plenty of global sights in this vein and other fun references, such as Val Kilmer and Anthony Edwards in a Top Gun reunion, voicing a pair of fighter jets. When such humor clicks, the film best embodies the spirit of its Pixar relatives and feels at home on the screen. These moments also suggest that Cars writer/director John Lasseter had more involvement than a mere story credit, though much beyond opening his creation to new characters seems unlikely.
Planes also pulls off the melting pot cast for which certain critics praised Turbo, but without the misfortune of Ken Jeong voicing a stereotypical Korean woman. In addition to the Indian Ishani, planes from Mexico, Great Britain, and Quebec are respectfully handled with a heaping of tasteful humor. As with the film overall, these touches aren’t exactly groundbreaking, but by playing things safe, Planes accomplishes more than it loses. For a kid-friendly film with adult appeal, safe works just fine.
Rated PG for some mild action and rude humor.
Planes is currently playing at the Carolina Cinemas on Hendersonville Rd.