The best thing that can be said about "Planes" is that it's better than 2011's embarrassing, hypocritical "Cars 2
," a rotten-to-the-core sequel that tossed in a violent spy plot while turning its back on the messages of slowing down and enjoying life found in 2006's lovely "Cars
." A Disney spinoff that not even Pixar chose to have anything to do withthough original director John Lasseter still executive produces"Planes" is a strictly pedestrian, mostly disposable kid flick targeting single-digit audience members with little to none of the writing or storytelling sophistication found in most of today's animated releases. The director is Klay Hall, previously of 2009's direct-to-video "Tinker Bell and the Lost Treasure," and the script was penned by Jeffrey M. Howard, who also cut his teeth on the "Tinker Bell" franchise; is it any surprise this film was initially meant to bypass theaters before Disney decided they could pluck a few extra bucks from consumers by putting it in multiplexes?
In the sleepy town of Propwash Junction, crop-dusting plane Dusty Crophopper (voiced by Dane Cook) dreams of being an ace air racer despite being told he'll never be fast enough. With the training assistance of the crusty Skipper (Stacy Keach), a war plane vet with the Jolly Wrenches, and a tune-up from mechanic forklift Dottie (Teri Hatcher), Dusty defies the odds and wins a place competing in the Wings Around the Globe Rally. With star flier Ripslinger (Roger Craig Smith) the one to beat, Dusty's travels take him from New York to Germany to India to China to the Himalayas as he learns a valuable lesson about staying true to oneself and never giving up.
"Planes" repeats the basic plot of fellow computer-animated film "Turbo
," released just a few weeks earlier, only with a cropduster who wants to participate in a race around the globe in the place of a snail who wishes he could compete in the Indy 500. Already familiar for this reason, déjà vu further sets in when one realizes it is basically a distaff redux of "Cars
," Propwash Junction standing in for Radiator Springs and Dusty's bonding flight around the Taj Mahal with Pan-Asian racing champion Ishani (Priyanka Chopra) subbing for Lightning McQueen's idyllic afternoon drive with Sally. Further, Skipper is a poor man's Doc Hudson. What "Planes" doesn't have are the resonant themes and heart of "Cars," its sole message to strive for your dreams positive but simplistic.
Cursed with a mundane script and computer animation that looks like a subpar imitation of Pixar's sterling, detail-oriented work, "Planes" has all of two things going for it: (1) Teri Hatcher's (2009's "Coraline
") game, upbeat performance stands out from the crowd as supporter and confidante Dottie, and (2) some of the scenery is predictably attractive, befitting a story set around the world (just don't, whatever you do, see it in color- and spirit-deflating 3D). Straining for laughs that don't comethe height of hilarity, apparently, are planes singing "Love Machine" by The Miraclesand a dramatic non-starter, "Planes" verges on the desperate, not nearly up to the usual standards of a theatrical release. It is generally inoffensive material for little ones, but even they deserve better. Is it wrong to expect more from the Disney brand when they've proven they can do so much better than this disposable trifle?