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PlanesDirected by Klay Hall
Starring Dane Cook, Stacey Keach, Carlos Alazraqui

Pixar has been the gold standard of animation since 1995’s excellent Toy Story, so taking on any of its intellectual property – even the runt of the litter, Cars – is a big ask. Stepping up to the mark and inviting such comparison, is Disney Toon Studios in their first theatrical release, Planes.

Drawing from the world of Cars, Planes tells the story of Dusty Crophopper (Dane Cook), a young crop duster dreaming to be something more – a racing plane. It is a typical David and Goliath sporting tale, following the journey of a young, small town, blue collar hero who, through integrity and determination, competes in the big leagues. Overcoming ridicule from the arrogant champion, Ripslinger (Roger Craig Smith), his own chronic fear of heights, he revitalises his cynical and curmudgeonly coach, Skipper (Stacey Keach), along the way. It is a very familiar flight plan.

Characterisation also suffers from this sense of the familiar. Both the grumpy mentor, Skipper, and the loyal but dim-witted best friend, Chug, feel like re-skins of Doc and Mater, respectively, from the previous Cars movies. Worse still is the presentation of racial diversity in the Wings Around The World competitors that comes dangerously close to racial stereotyping. This is especially evident in Carlos Alazraqui’s El Chupacabra, the Mexican lucha libre/Latin lothario, but it would be just as easy to point to the very British Bulldog, voiced by John Cleese, or Priyanka Chopra’s exotic Ishani.

Yet despite its overly familiar plot and characters, there is a certain something here. Like a racing plane itself, being stripped of weight means Planes is capable of making a clean run to the finishing line, never seeming long, drawn out, or overstaying its welcome. It may lack the emotional resonance or subtle maturity of the better Pixar films, but it is not without its charms. There is an almost mystical joy to flight that this movie manages to capture. Part of this is through the numerous aeronautical references scattered throughout, such as the two F/A-18s voiced by Val Kilmer and Anthony Edwards (Top Gun), or the use made of the F4U Corsair’s folding wings to help Skipper emote. Partly it is through the visceral detail of its flight animation, and its portrayal of barrel rolls and high-gee turns. This is not saying it will pick up any little golden statues come Oscar night, but the quality of animation is crisp and clear, the character designs are colourful and cheerful, and the various flight sequences convey the physics in such a way as to make the audience feel the gee force from the comfort of their cinema seats.

So, neither soaring into the stratosphere, nor in a flat spin heading out to sea, Planes maintains a comfortable cruising height. It will be coming in for landing in time for the school holidays.


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