Film Review: Planes

This scrap-metal spinoff of Pixar’s smash 'Cars' franchise just doesn’t fly—mainly because the guy who said “Don’t worry, we’ll dub the fun in later” obviously forgot.

Talk about a Toy Story! It’s painfully plain that Planes aspires to be Son of Cars and Cars 2, a simplistic knockoff of Pixar’s staggeringly successful auto-animated series, only transplanted in the beclouded wild blue yonder—so why didn’t someone bring the pixie dust that makes Pixar’s animated flicks a cut above in wit, style and detail?

The answer is that Planes’ original aim was lower and less lofty than Cars’. John Lasseter, the Pixar kingpin who co-authored this opus with director Klay Hall and screenwriter Jeffrey M. Howard, decided that, instead of a direct-to-DVD release through DisneyToon Studios, Planes should be sent out to play the big boys like its underdog, Rocky-esque protagonist Dusty Crophopper (voiced by Dane Cook).

Dusty is an anthropomorphic crop-duster plane (thank you, Mr. Hitchcock!) suffering from vertigo (thanks again, Hitch!) and thus doomed to the low-level life of spraying fertilizer on fields of corn. He longs for something better, higher—like becoming an air-racing globe-hopper. To that end, he trains with his dimwitted fuel-truck bud Chug (Brad Garrett), holding the Air-Racing for Dummies book.

Planes and Cars having kindred kid-friendly universes, the new film lazily duplicates the cast of characters that inhabited its predecessor. Instead of Doc Hudson (Paul Newman’s last feature-film role), the crusty-mentor slot in Planes is filled by Skipper (Stacy Keach), a reclusive, retired Navy Corsair who rode out World War II. With their help and that of a spunky forklift named Dottie (Teri Hatcher), Dusty enters the race to qualify for the annual big global hop. Considering he was not built for speed, he does fairly well, finishing sixth, just out of the money—but when one competitor is found using performance-enhancing fuel, he enters the competition by default.

The Big Race is a smorgasbord of ethnic clichés that includes a pan-Asian champ from India (Priyanka Chopra), a French-Canadian entry (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), an oversexed Gee Bee Model R from Mexico (Carlos Alazraqui), a de Havilland DH.88 Comet with a stiff upper lip (John Cleese), and the arrogant previous winner in everybody’s way—an unbeaten bully named Ripslinger (Roger Craig Smith).

And the winner is—well, it’s not a suspense contest, but it is excitingly presented, thanks to Jeremy Milton’s Benihana editing and Mark Mancina’s stirring score.

The clue that Planes is just the ground floor of something comes during the closing credit-crawl which trumpets Installment Two now in the works—Planes, Fire & Rescue, already set to be released theatrically on July 18, 2014—so, gentlemen, start your engines! And somebody, please remember to pack the Pixar pizzazz next time!