Let’s be upfront about this — nothing this review says or suggests will keep you and your kids from seeing Planes. Your wee ones have made Disney/Pixar’s Cars franchise the most PROFITABLE MERCHANDISING DIVISION in both companies history. Heck, Cars 2 only came about because the bosses over at the House of Mouse strong-armed animation chief John Lasseter into continuing such an unconscionable cash cow. Now we get this nonsensical, critic proof addition, offered up as “From the World Above Cars,” which is just another way of saying “new toys are in stores NOW!” Parents won’t care. It will keep the kids quiet for 88 mindless minutes. But there’s no invention here, nothing original or worthy of anything beyond a quick direct-to-DVD cash grab… and that’s where it should have stayed.
The story centers on Dusty Crophopper (voiced by Dane Cook), a single engine plane that spends its days spreading fertilizing and his nights dreaming of entering the Wings Around the Globe aerial race. Unfortunately, he knows very little about such a competition and his pals — the tanker truck Chug (Brad Garrett) and mechanic/forklift Dottie (Teri Hatcher) — aren’t much help. Seeking out the advice of an old fighter plane from WWII, Skipper Riley (Stacy Keach), Dusty learns the tricks of the trade and enters the regional competition. A technicality allows him to advance to the big show, where he faces off against reigning champ Ripslinger (Roger Craig Smith) and a menagerie of other aircraft including ones from Mexico (Carlos Alazraqui), India (Priyanka Chopra ), Britain (John Cleese), and Quebec (Julia Louis-Dreyfus).
That’s it. There is nothing more complicated to the storyline. Dusty wants to win, Ripslinger will do anything to stop him, and we get lots of 3D panoramas of various places around the planet. There’s even a moment when our little hero takes a side trip to the Taj Mahal to do bit of sightseeing. Presented in stages to keep things uncomplicated for the ankle-biters, Planes tries to be a travelogue adventure for preschoolers. Yet we learn nothing about the various locales, only random recognizable bits and pieces and since everything is set within the already established universe of Lightning McQueen and his pals, there’s a lot of redundancy as well. The truck “cows” are back (though they do provide the film with its only novel gag) as are the brave little forklifts who buzz around, being helpful.
As for the aircraft themselves, they’re generic and forgettable. Not even the voice work differentiates them, though Mr. Alazraqui comes dangerously close to repeating Turbo‘s tendency to turn anthropomorphized objects of color into crass stereotypes. (A luchadore mask and cape? Really?) Instead, they’re just prototypes being tested out like some manner of cinematic consumer focus group. Back in the ’80s, Saturday morning cartoons were often condemned as being nothing more than 30-minute advertisements for various toy lines and “must have” merchandise. Planes makes no bones about its Madison Avenue intentions. This is a cloying commercial disguised as yet another House of Mouse wonder, and such disingenuousness is disturbing.
No matter. Your children will come out clamoring for every action figure version of the interchangeable characters they’ve seen while getting back in line for another seat in the Cineplex. They’ll laugh along with the borderline racism and squeal with delight over the predictable finale. Walt’s workers have done better. As a matter of fact, when compared to something as sensational as Wreck-It Ralph, passing this off as the byproduct of the same artistic mindset is nothing short of fraud. For most adults, disposable Disney is still Disney and as long as the offspring are satisfied, all is right with the routine. Planes should really be ashamed of itself, however. Its deception is as direct as it low IQ narrative.