Planes a sky-high crowd pleaser for kids
He may be a lowly crop duster, but he has a soaring ambition: to win an around-the-world race.
Now, if only Dusty Crophopper could overcome his fear of heights.
That’s the premise behind Planes, the latest feature out of DisneyToon Studios, a film clearly inspired by the anthropomorphic success of another Disney product, Pixar Studios’ Cars and Cars 2, which together grossed more than $1 billion at the box office.
“I’ve flown thousands of miles and I’ve never been anywhere,” Dusty (voiced by comic Dane Cook) laments.
But even after narrowly qualifying for the Wings Around the World event — after another competitor cheats and is disqualified — Dusty gets little respect from his fellow competitors, who disdain him as a “farm boy” who reeks of, um, compost.
Planes follows the standard Disney formula to the letter: the mean-spirited alpha male villain named Ripslinger (voiced by Roger Craig Smith), who along with two nasty minions, Ned and Zed, will do anything to win against the underdog hero, Dusty, who manages to prevail through sheer pluck and with the help of friends old and new.
While the film is clearly aimed at young audiences, there’s also an effort to bring along adults with a script that contains several humorous references that would be way over the heads of youngsters.
To wit: naming a colour commentator Brent Mustangburger, a reference to sports personality Brent Musburger, giving the control tower at New York’s JFK Airport a Kennedy-esque accent and a conversation between two female planes about an eligible but undesirable male flyer — “Nice enough guy, but way too much baggage.”
Director Klay Hall has also corralled a slew of celebrity voices, among them British comic John Cleese as Bulldog, a de Havilland Comet; Stacey Keach as the gruff Skipper Riley, an aged Corsair who trains Dusty; and Julia Louis-Dreyfus doing a howlingly bad Quebecois accent as his love interest, Rochelle.
And while the plotting is rather pedestrian, the humour mostly lame, what makes Planes a stand-out experience — not surprisingly, based on Disney’s vast and impressive history of animated classics — is the visuals.
With so much of the action taking place in the stratosphere, the film is a visual treat throughout, including scenes of simple, homespun beauty, such as Nebraska cornfields, and others of breathtaking magnificence, capturing the majesty of the Himalayas and the Pacific Ocean during a raging storm. If ever a film was designed to take advantage of 3-D, it is this one and it does.
With a sequel already in production and set for release in 2014, the people at Disney clearly have sky-high expectations of Planes. Their confidence will likely be rewarded.
Bruce DeMara is a syndicated Toronto Star movie critic.