The tagline for this Pixar knockoff is “Planes: From the World Above Cars.” Instead, it should be “Planes: Open Your Wallet.” Originally intended as straight-to-video fare, Planes is a slick, 90-minute commercial for Disney’s new line of toy planes. After hearing each character name, I half-expected an announcer to break in and tell me that it costs “just 7.99, while supplies last.”
The Plot. Dusty (a flat Dane Cook) longs to leave his monotonous job as a small town, crop-duster and become a world class racer. With the help of his folksy sidekicks (voiced by Teri Hatcher and Pixar standby Brad Garrett), Dusty manages to qualify for a big, international race. Skipper, a gruff, old fighter plane (Stacey Keach, channeling Paul Newman’s much beloved Doc Hudson character), coaches Dusty to get him ready for the big time. Dusty is fast enough, but can he overcome his inconvenient fear of heights (high heights – – he’s okay flying just above ground)?? Will the cut-throat world of big time racing change him? Of course not! Dusty holds onto his virtue and manages to help and ennoble everyone around him.
Planes borrows shamelessly from the Cars playbook, but it lacks the heart and wit of that earlier movie. The characters are hopelessly dull. Dusty is earnest and good-hearted, but humorless, and the supporting characters are cardboard clichés: the Latin lover, the stoic Brit, the gruff war hero, etc. Without decent dialogue or quirks, these characters wear out their welcomes quickly, and the film drags. Even among the movie’s target audience (4-7 year old boys), there were a lot of butts squirming in seats.
Slow as it is, Planes has three things going for it: things that ALMOST (but not quite) make it worth seeing. First, it has the planes themselves – – as objects, not characters. If your kid is a diehard airplane nut, you’ll have to suck it up and go see this film. Second, Planes wins bonus points for glorifying hard work and persistence. Unlike that yutzy snail in Turbo, Dusty does not “magically” become fast. In a short, but detailed, training sequence (catnip for boys who care about torque and whatnot), we see Dusty refine his technique through hard work.
Plus, the upside of Planes’ blandness is that there is nothing to offend ANYONE here; so NO NIGHTMARE ALERTS. If anything, this movie encourages sleep. Skip it and rewatch Cars. Or better yet, take your kid to an airshow.