'Planes' Review: Patriotic Touch Adds Class to Simple Sky Saga

Having successfully conquered the world of NASCAR with the hit Cars, Disney has taken to the sky. The latest installment into the Universe of Cars is Planes, an international underdog story.

Dusty (voiced by Dane Cook) is a young crop duster who dreams of something grander. Despite his small engine size and fear of heights, he wants to compete in the global Wings Around The World, a sort of Tour de France meets Nintendo’s Cruis’n World.

In Planes’ brisk first minutes, Dusty trains with friend and comic relief Chug (Brad Garrett), a fuel truck, and fights his way to a sixth-place finish at the competition’s U.S. trials. That’s good, but not good enough to compete on the world stage.

But after the fifth place racer get disqualified for using banned fuels, Dusty moves from alternate to competitor. Soon local war hero Skipper (Stacy Keach) joins Dusty’s team. Skipper teaches Dusty maneuverability to compensate for his small engine.

Then Dusty’s off to the races, country-hopping alongside a colorful cast of stereotypes including the luchador-like El Chupacabra (Carlos Alazraqui) flying for Mexico, Great Britain’s tea-drinking Bulldog (John Cleese) and Ishani (Priyanka Chopra), a hennatattooed Indian racer.

Then of course there’s three-time winner Ripslinger (Roger Craig Smith), a jerk jet dead set on stopping Dusty’s dream--no matter what.

Dusty is the quintessential pure of heart hero--he’s a small-town farm boy whose dreams of racing on flight’s highest stage never take him to the logical ends of many competitors today: He never even considers cheating or using banned fuels, and when a fellow competitor gets in trouble, Dusty happily sacrifices the race to help guide his opponent to safety. He’s a commendable albeit simple protagonist compared to today’s typical leads.

As a whole the story is overly uncomplicated and mostly predictable. Any scene that doesn’t involve flying devolves into silliness or the standard trash-talking of rivals. On the plus side, writer Jeffrey Howard included lots of jokes geared toward parents (Ishani tells Dusty that in India they believe that planes will all be “re-cycled” as tractors after they die, air traffic control at JFK airport sounds like the former president and El Chupacabra brags that he is a telenovela star), and these generally keep Planes from sputtering.

Add too that like Cars, which paid tribute to small town America, Planes features a war hero character and gives a nod of appreciation to the sacrifices of our men and women in uniform. As for the kids, director Klay Hall’s swooping action and minion-esque support vehicles are certain to entertain.


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