For nearly a century now, Walt Disney Studios has soared above its competition with a legendary vault of groundbreaking masterpieces, but its latest animated feature, “Planes,” crashes and burns with a tired plot, generic characters, and surprisingly lackluster animation.
Set in the world of Disney/Pixar’s “Cars,” Dusty Crophopper (Dane Cook) is a small-town crop-dusting plane with big dreams of competitive racing but a debilitating fear of heights (go figure). With encouragement from his four-wheeled friends Chug (Brad Garrett) and Dottie (Teri Hatcher), he tries out for the renowned Wings Around the World race, but misses the qualifying time by just a few seconds.
One of his opponents is disqualified for using illegal substances, though, and Dusty is suddenly thrown (flown?) into the competition and plans to prove to himself and the world that nice guys don’t always finish last.
The underdog story is a safe one for children’s movies and the cheating angle can provide an excellent analogy for Milwaukee parents to discuss Ryan Braun’s suspension. But “Planes” plays it far too safe, adding nothing to differentiate it from nearly every animated film of the past decade.
The film clearly rides “Cars’s” clear-coattails, and while none of the “Cars” cast makes a cameo, one could be forgiven for mistaking any of “Planes’s” forgettable characters for a cheap Lightning McQueen or Tow Mater knockoff. In fact, Disney’s animators simply retread old tires, making their movie nothing more than “Cars in the Sky.”
The diverse cast, which includes John Cleese, Cedric the Entertainer, and Julia Louis-Dreyfus, has potential to breathe life into an otherwise dull ride, but the script doesn’t give them a chance to make any sort of lasting impression. Even Cook and Garrett—both genuinely funny, charismatic actors—are lost in the boring, hackneyed storyline.
Dusty may learn how to soar in “Planes,” but Disney simply doesn’t here, and the result is a high-flying flop.
* ½ out of five