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Rating:3.5 out of 5 PG
Length: 92 minutes
Release Date: Aug. 9, 2013
Directed by: Klay Hall
Genre: Animation/Family/Comedy/Adventure



Few children would pass up a chance to sprout wings and fly thousands of miles above the ground. The art of altering personal anatomy on a whim isn’t a common skill just yet; so until then, moviegoers can enjoy the pleasant distraction provided by Disney’s latest computer-animated adventure film. Inspired by the 2006 and 2011 “Cars” movies, “Planes” takes viewers to the skies for a heartfelt underdog tale about an eager crop-dusting plane named Dusty Crophopper. Against all odds, Dusty lands a spot in a legendary international race and finds himself challenged by his fear of heights and a slew of spirited competitors.

The “Cars” films were helmed by Pixar—Disney’s frequent partner and the film industry’s most long-standing computer animation studio for big-screen family films. “Planes” is a solo effort from DisneyToon Studios and was initially reserved for a straight-to-DVD release. Although “Planes” is being promoted as a “Cars” spinoff, the film functions more like a reboot of its successful parent franchise. Writer Jeffrey M. Howards has clearly mapped out the major plot and character points of “Cars” and manages to hit every target, recycling the familiar conflict between an arrogant superstar and a hopeful rookie. Disney isn’t a rookie production company, though, and this multimedia giant knows how to create a winning formula children can easily warm up to.

No matter how much the underdog storyline is overused in film, viewers can’t help but enjoy this timeless theme. The movie’s major antagonist, Ripslinger, is a conceited and flashy custom-designed plane who assumes he can’t be bested by the simple crop-duster. Voiced by Roger Craig Smith, Ripslinger is dripping with confidence and vainly proclaims, “Legends aren’t born; they’re built.” On the other hand, Dusty has the uninspiring job of spraying crops with Vitaminamulch and harbors big dreams of rising above his humble station. Much like Lightning McQueen in “Cars,” Dusty gets some help from a bevy of colorful supporting characters to usher him along toward his destiny as an unexpected champion.

Dane Cook is surprisingly appealing as Dusty, who yearns for an exciting life away from his idyllic farming town. Although he is known for a cruder brand of humor, Cook’s voice acting packs in the sincere and youthful enthusiasm viewers need to root for Dusty throughout his journey. Stacy Keach voices the character of WWII veteran Skipper Riley, a retired Navy aircraft and the gruff mentor figure any ambitious underdog needs. A surprise conflict arises between Dusty and his friends, providing an entertaining hurdle for the young plane to resolve before the big finish. Dusty’s fear of traveling more than 1,000 feet into the air creates another amusing problem and encourages young viewers to face and overcome their limitations.

Laughter will ensue as Dusty’s worldly competitors are introduced. Beware: almost every plane comes with a shallow cultural stereotype, an over-the-top accent, and matching foreign music, just in case someone in the audience can’t figure out what country the racer hails from. The exotic Ishani is the brightly colored Indian plane who captures Dusty’s heart and isn’t afraid to compete in a male-dominated race. Rochelle is a French-Canadian plane with a dainty build and a saucy personality. Bulldog is a stodgy British aircraft who can’t take a joke. The most blatant of all is El Chupacabra, a friendly and charismatic Mexican racer who magically conjures up mariachi music when he speaks.

Fortunately, children are experts at overlooking those minor flaws and seeing straight to the heart of the story. Part of that charm lies in the film’s smooth and playful animation. Even without Pixar, Disney knows how to deliver an impressive visual experience. Whether viewers choose a 2D or 3D showing, director Klay Hall takes moviegoers on a wild ride through the skies. The audience is treated to vibrant scenery and rip-roaring fun as the racers soar around the globe, passing through rural landscapes and stunning exotic locations ranging from Nepal to Iceland.

Due to strange plot twists, “Cars 2” made a much weaker impression than its prequel. The film strayed too far from the quaint small-town feel of its characters into an odd espionage plot that was too confusing and overworked for many young viewers to follow. With “Planes,” Disney intends to launch a new film franchise that is set to include a 2014 summer sequel.

As a franchise opener, “Planes” borrows just enough from the original formula to win over an adult audience while pleasing younger viewers with comical exchanges, an appealing message, and a plucky and heroic new protagonist. “Planes” isn’t quite as imaginative as “Cars,” but choosing to change the setting from a racetrack to the open air is a smart move for a company hoping to appeal to the dreamer in every child and adult.

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