On the movie poster for “Planes’” and in a number of its advertisements is the tagline “From Above the World of Cars,” with the latter three words are carried over into the film’s title sequence. The goal, of course, is to link the film with Pixar’s popular “Cars” movies and equate that Pixar brand quality with its skyward brethren.
The result is a shameless bait-and-switch worthy of a good winding up, but “Planes” is so insignificant and harmless it’s difficult to stay mad at it. In the end, you kind of feel bad for it, just like that classmate in middle school who claimed Britney Spears was his cousin.
Yes, “Planes” technically take place in a world with talking cars and sans any semblance of humanity, and it does have Mater version 0.5 in the Brad Garrett-voiced Chug, but none of the notable “Cars” characters makes an appearance. Instead, audiences are stuck following the adventures of the Dane Cook-voiced Dusty Crophopper; a plucky crop duster with designs of becoming a world-class racer. The odds are not in his favor – one character reminds Dusty he’s built to seed, not speed – but with the help of Chug and peppy mechanic Dottie (Teri Hatcher), Dusty qualifies for the prestigious and dangerous “Wings Around the Globe” race.
After a short training montage with curt, mysterious but doting fighter plane Skipper (Stacy Keach), Dusty heads to New York to begin the globe-trotting race against a collection of competitors voiced by, in order of noteworthiness, Julia Louis-Dreyfuss, John Cleese, Carlos Alazraqui and Priyanka Chopra. The top contender is the cocky Ripslinger (voiced by somebody named Roger Craig Smith) – a three-time champion aided by twin racers Ned and Zed (Gabriel Iglesias saved Disney a few dollars by doing the voices for both). Oh, and Sinbad, Anthony Edwards, Val Kilmer, John Ratzenberger, Brett Musburger, Colin Cowherd and Cedric the Entertainer pop up for a few scenes because Disney gave them money for their services (except Ratzenberger, who earns table scraps by appearing in anything tangentially related to Pixar).
With the competition stiff and his chances at victory slim at best, will the intrepid Dusty win the race and the respect of his fellow competitors? Will Skipper’s mysterious past become a major plot point to propel the second act? Will mildly distracting aerial shenanigans ensue?
The answer to all three questions is yes, because this is a mediocre animated film meant for a direct-to-DVD release. Taking the reins from Pixar for this one is DisneyToon Studios, which is best known for producing all the cruddy Disney sequels from the last decade for films ranging from animation classics like “Bambi” “The Lion King” and “Winnie the Pooh” to a gazillion movies starring Tinker Bell.
The drop in quality from Pixar to the Mouse’s house of crap is noticeable in so, so many ways, starting with low-grade animation nowhere near theatrical quality, even when converted to 3D. The poor quality is most noticeable when the planes and motor vehicles talk – it just looks forced and a little off whenever they open their mouth-like holes.
Then again, it’s usually for the best when the planes don’t speak at all, given the oaken dialogue and plethora of vehicle-related innuendo and puns. (One example worth mentioning: “He kicked some Aston Martin”; it’s supposed to be hilarious because Aston sounds like a naughty word.) Combine the weak dialogue with broad racial stereotypes, paint-by-numbers plotting and an excessively trite and overt theme, and the result is the formation of “Planes’” perfectly lackluster script.
The last few hundred words of snark aside, “Planes” doesn’t qualify as a bad movie. It’s nowhere close to being a good movie, and anyone who does say it is either works for Disney or is a filthy liar (or both if Cowherd praises it), but the company shouldn’t have pushed “Planes” toward a wide release. Actually, if it had just gone to DVD, “Planes” would compare favorably to other family-friendly films of its ilk like the humorously dreadful “A Talking Cat!?!” It’s subpar for a theatrical release, but better than average for a straight-to-DVD feature.
“Planes,” at its best and worst, is unmemorable and deservedly forgettable, something that doesn’t deserve hatred or box-office profit. Even if it doesn’t get the latter, audiences can rest easy with the knowledge that Dusty will return in a sequel, “Planes: Fire & Rescue,” that IMDB says is scheduled for release in … 2013. So that’s something to look forward to within the next five months, which is just lovely.
"Planes," a Disney release, is rated PG by the Motion Picture Association of America for "some mild action and rude humor." Running time: 92 minutes.
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