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Mike Wilmington

By Mike Wilmington

Wilmington on Movies: Planes

PLANES (Two and a Half Stars)
U.S.: Klay Hall, 2013


In movies, especially movies intended for kids, originality isn’t everything. Adults are sometimes another story.

Planes, as most of us know by now, is a kind of knockoff of Cars and Cars 2, two Pixar films that were pet toons of now Disney head John Lasseter (who co-wrote and directed them)– and were also popular with audiences and toy-buying parents, though trashed by a lot of critics. Planes is a popular and somewhat trashed cartoon show, too. But cute.

Planes—which isn’t a Pixar movie but sure as, uh, heck looks, feels and sounds like one—is actually a product of Disneytoon Studio, another of the branches of the Disney animation empire now run (very well) by Lasseter. Stylistically, it’s in the same groove as Cars, but with cute little big-eyed planes whirring around instead of cute little big-eyed cars—or, for that matter, cute little big-eyed toys, monsters, fish or robots. Yet though Planes can get overly familiar, the movie, which was originally intended as a straight-to-video item, then upgraded to a theatrical release, has its moments.

It’s the story of yet another international race (like the Grand Prix in Cars 2), this time with a plucky little underdog—predictably adorable crop-dusting plane Dusty Crophopper (voiced by Dane Cook)—rising up from the American heartland (in this case, Propwash Junction) to compete against the superstars of the sport. Dusty, with an omnipresent grin under his propeller, is a working stiff with dreams of glory who finally gets his chance when he makes the cut for that round-the-world championship race—where his main competition is swaggering multi-trophy champ and bully-plane Ripslinger (Roger Craig Smith, exuding ego).

Our cute little hero enlists the help of his buddies, Chug the Truck (Brad Garrett), Dottie the Forklift (Teri Hatcher), and even recruits a heavy-duty coach, the dark-tempered but sky-savvy Skipper (Stacy Keach), a war vet with a legendary rep. When Dusty surprisingly makes it into the finals—against Ripslinger and an international gallery that includes crusty Britisher Bulldog (John Cleese), French-Canadian bombshell Rochelle (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), Rochelle’s devoted serenading suitor El Chupacabra (Carlos Alazraqui) and Indian ace Ishani (Priyanka Chopra)—the stage is set, the race is on, and the lovable clichés come tumbling out like gumballs from a gumball machine.

To say you’ve seen it all before is putting it mildly. Lasseter sometimes seems, especially here, like a big jubilant child unloading his huge toy chest for all his playmates—which is usually a pleasure but sometimes, at least lately, predictable. He was the executive producer for Planes – it’s a Disneytoon Studio production rather than a Pixar one—and he helps gives the movie a classy-looking, energetic shine. It’s a good-looking show despite its unoriginal, uninspired but not uncongenial script. Much of what’s in the two Cars movies (the characters, the plot, the backgrounds, the cornball. somewhat stereotypical humor, the would be heartfelt themes, even the presence of super-sports announcer Brent Mustangburger (voiced, as in Cars 2, by Brent Musburger)—has its equivalent in Planes, except that Planes is heavier on uplift and lighter on jokes.

It’s a less adult-friendly movie than the Cars twosome. But, with its skyful of cute little planes and thrills in the clouds executed with the current Disney Studio panache, it’s definitely kid-friendly. It’s a nice-looking movie, and that’s what gives it some redeeming value for adults. Director Klay Hall and writer Jeffrey M. Howard (both veterans of Disney’s “Tinker Bell” video series), are two cartoon-makers who both obviously love aircraft (reportedly since boyhood) and they’ve dreamed up, or borrowed, a story that has lots of scope and space for spectacularly cute flying scenes. After all, their movie was intended as a straight-to-video item, so it‘s already something of an over-achiever. At its best, especially when it’s airborne, Planes is still, well, cute.


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I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

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~ David Simon