Disney’s Planes is very much like Pixar’s Cars, in that it’s animated (and available in 3D) and softly colored, and features machines that function with far more capabilities than those for which they were intended. But whereas the Cars protagonist was a cocky race car who had to learn the hard way that going it alone isn’t always the way of winners, the main character in Planes, Dusty, is an aw-shucks crop duster who aspires to greatness against all odds. Dusty (Dane Cook) dreams of winning the Wings Around the Globe tournament, sort of the Grand Prix of flight, and with the help of friends and the mentorship of grizzled World War II fighter pilot (now grounded) Skipper (Stacy Keach), he sets out to accomplish his goal.
The movie is surprisingly exciting at times, to the extent that it’s not necessarily a given that Dusty will take home the gold. The filmmakers do a lovely job of incorporating the topography of places like New Mexico and Nepal to stunning effect, as the various planes, including height-averse Dusty, maneuver around natural wonders and gauzy strips of clouds. A standout moment occurs when Dusty emerges from a near head-on collision with a train into . . . total silence and white space, making us wonder if this is aviation heaven or just a technical glitch.
There are the usual assortment of quirky “car-acters”—I couldn’t resist—like the plucky Brit Bulldog (John Cleese) and the suave Mexican El Chupa (Carlo Alazraqui), whose mariachi rendition of “Love Machine” should get regular play on the radio. There are the usual array of plot devices, like when Dusty realizes that Skipper maybe isn’t all he’s thought to be, legend-wise, and when a would-be love interest betrays him to help the dastardly nemesis Ripslinger (Roger Craig Smith). Planes reminds us of the power and magnetism of flight, and of why people like the Wright brothers and the early astronauts had the gumption to keep trying to conquer air and space.