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It may be an official Cars spinoff, but you won’t find the name Pixar anywhere in connection with Disney’s Planes.
While visually engaging, this production of Disneytoon Studios — it was originally slated to go direct-to-DVD — lacks the sort of character depth and dramatic scope normally associated with the Pixar brand.
Granted the Cars vehicles, especially the 2011 sequel, were never embraced by critics as prime Pixar, but that lack of substance never seemed to matter in toy stores where they have been merchandising behemoths.
Likewise the main thrust for Planes would appear to be a surefire way to supplement those Lightning McQueen sales.
Theatrically, given the crowded animated feature marketplace, Planes should do solid if unspectacular business — provided audiences don’t mind some overlapping plot and character similarities also shared with the recent Turbo and Despicable Me.
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It should be noted that there’s a happy precedent where Disney’s Planes is concerned — both Toy Story 2 and The Tigger Movie also started out life as direct-to-DVD propositions.
Set in a patch of the American Midwest that looks remarkably like Radiator Springs from the first Cars movie, Planes concerns the competitive high-flying ambitions of one Dusty Crophopper (affably voiced by Dane Cook), a crop duster who feels the need for speed.
Taken under the wing of a reclusive mentor Skipper (Stacy Keach), a Navy Corsair who once commanded the celebrated Jolly Wrenches squadron until an incident removed him from combat, Dusty also receives coaching by Dottie (Teri Hatcher), a spunky, no-nonsense forklift.
After a few minor adjustments, Dusty finds himself going up against the unbeatable Ripslinger (Roger Craig Smith) in a globe-spanning air-racing event that takes him a long way from the heartland.
Based on a concept by executive producer John Lasseter and directed by Klay Hall (“King of the Hill”), the well-researched film contains enough technical jargon to please aviation buffs but comes up short on freshness and originality where those characters are concerned.
As written by Jeffrey M. Howard (Secret of the Wings), the screenplay settles for the slightest of variations on what has preceded it — gruff Skipper is simply a winged take on gruff Doc Hudson; Dusty’s smug, green nemesis Ripslinger is a knock-off of McQueen’s smug, green nemesis Chick Hicks; dimwitted fuel truck Chug (voiced by Brad Garrett) recalls dimwitted tow-truck Mater, and so on.
That element of familiarity at least serves the voice cast well, with Top Gun co-stars Anthony Edwards and Val Kilmer lending their voices to the characters of Echo and Bravo, while Brent Musburger reprises his Cars 2 role as sportscaster Brent Mustangburger.
Also on energetically on board are Julia Louis-Dreyfus as a French-Canadian competitor named Rochelle, who’s being doggedly courted by overly-confident El Chupacabra (Carlos Alazraqui), something of a luchador of the indoor racing world.
Opens: Friday, August 9
Production companies: Disneytoon Studios
Voice cast: Dane Cook, Stacy Keach. Brad Garrett, Teri Hatcher, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Priyanka Chopra, John Cleese, Cedric the Entertainer, Anthony Edwards, Val Kilmer
Director: Klay Hall
Screenwriter: Jeffrey M. Howard
Executive producer: John Lasseter
Producer: Traci Balthazor-Flynn
Production designer: Ryan L. Carlson
Music: Mark Mancina
Editor: Jeremy Milton
Rating: PG, 92 minutes.
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