I’m not so sure what to say about "Planes", the Disney Animation sequel to its Pixar’s "Cars" films. The idea is a no-brainer for sure, but not only does it run into the same problems that "Cars" had (they aren’t cuddly), but it also just sort of flies into the clouds without any fuel.
The story revolves around a crop duster named Dusty Crophopper (voiced by Dane Cook) who dreams of competing in a big around-the-world race. The problem is - well, there really aren’t any problems. Other planes don’t believe he has the skills, but he proves pretty early that he does. He just needs more training. Enter Skipper (voiced by Stacey Keach), an old warplane that hasn’t flown in many years. Reluctantly, he agrees to help Dusty, and off they go with the training montage.
But again, there is nothing really holding Dusty back. They touch on the fact that Dusty is afraid of heights, but this plot point is thrown away pretty quickly, so most of the movie is the actual race and the obstacles that are thrown in - mostly by competing planes. It’s all very simplistic and uninspired. There isn’t much for Dusty to learn except, maybe, to believe in himself. A good message for sure, but even that doesn’t seem to be the focus.
Much of what we see is a riff off of old war movies, "Top Gun," and sporting sagas. There are lots of jokes that mention fuselages and/or a variety of airplane parts and words kids won’t understand. So I’m not sure how connected they will be. It has pretty colors and it’s dynamic to watch at times, but story-wise and character-wise, it falls short.
There is a bunch of supporting characters that try to liven up the proceedings, with only a few really achieving that result. There’s Rochelle (voiced by Julia Louis-Dreyfuss) a Canadian plane that becomes the object of the El Chupacabra’s (voiced by Carlos Alazraqui) affections. He’s a ladies-plane who needs some help with the ladies; something he gets from Dusty (further proving there really isn’t that much wrong with Dusty). Ishani (Priyanka Chopra) is an Asian pacific jet that becomes the object of Dusty’s affections, but there’s some last act drama here that feels forced and almost too mean-spirited for this type of film. It’s fun to see both Val Kilmer and Anthony Edwards of "Top Gun" fame here as voice-talent, but there’s really nothing clever enough to keep adults entertained or dazzling enough to keep the younger set invested.
The other problems are the same that cropped up with "Cars." The world is confusing. Why are there Jetliners when there are no humans in this world? Who are the jets carrying? Why is there a cornfield when there are no people to eat the corn? (I was told it was for fuel, but I think that’s a cheat.) I just don’t understand if this is supposed to be the "secret world of transportation vehicles" (like "Toy Story" is the "secret world of toys,") or does it just take place in a world totally devoid of humanity? If so, who created all of these vehicles in the first place?
I know, I should relax. It’s a kid’s movie. But Pixar and now Disney generally create clever worlds. And the reasons for their worlds tend to be explained. Here, it’s just odd. Klay Hall’s direction feels very much like a straight-to-DVD follow-up. There are some inventive moments, but for the most part it’s forgettable. As for the animation, planes are massive and clunky, so their expressions lack a lot of dexterity. This just takes away from being able to relate to the characters and that keeps the film at a distance. In fact, by the end of the 92-minute running time, you’ve travelled thousands of miles, but you remember none of the journey.