The Bock’s Office: ‘Planes’ a low-flying kiddie film
September 5, 2013
Craig — In aviation, you need a great amount of horsepower before you can take to the skies, an apt analogy for the ingenuity needed to make a movie soar. Sadly, in that department, the well-meaning "Planes" can't seem to get itself off the ground.
Dusty Crophopper (voice of Dane Cook) may have been built as a piece of farm equipment, but the young airplane's true place is high in the sky rather than spraying pesticides over a cornfield day in and day out. More than anything, he wants to compete in Wings Across the World, an international race that determines the best flyers all over the globe.
After spending so much time dreaming about the possibility of being involved in such a prestigious event, Dusty barely knows what to do when he actually qualifies, seeking out the training of a seasoned old war plane (Stacy Keach) to get him ready for a grueling endeavor.
Even with specialized guidance and some mechanical upgrades, Dusty still has his work cut out for him, racing against the likes of the excitable El Chupacabra (Carlos Alazraqui), stuffy Brit Bulldog (John Cleese) and long-reigning champ Ripslinger (Roger Craig Smith), who doesn't intend to lose to a lowly crop duster, no matter what it takes.
Cook's usually very adult material as a comedian makes you wonder if he's the best choice to voice the hero of a family movie, but he can keep it clean as the starry-eyed Dusty, whose ambition far exceeds the limits of what his body can do crossing oceans and mountains.
An overwhelming sense of acrophobia certainly is no help when he's trying to make his way into first place against racers who have been flying at high altitudes for much longer than he has. But they don't have the mentorship of Skipper — nicely voiced by Keach — a Navy veteran who's been grounded for years only to find a glimmer of hope in his new student.
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Teri Hatcher and Brad Garrett provide ample humor as Dusty's technical expert and personal cheering section, respectively, but nobody gets more laughs than Alazraqui as the lovelorn El Chupacabra, proving, as Benjamin Bratt did in "Despicable Me 2," cartoon characters who wear luchador masks are always funny.
The veritable United Nations that Dusty sees as he makes his way around the world may offer some good-looking views from the air, but all in all, this tale is nothing we haven't seen before. As the last animated feature of the summer, it has the dubious distinction of being stacked up to everything that came before it, and considering "Turbo" already showed us an underdog racer — one with an orange body and blue eyes, no less — the outcome is not good.
As a spinoff of Pixar's "Cars," this account of aeronautical adventures feels like an attempt to bring back something that already wore out its welcome, which is a shame. Besides Dusty being much more pleasant than Owen Wilson's hotshot auto Lightning McQueen, isn't it considerably more exciting to see airplanes rising, swooping and roaring across the unfettered sky than it is to watch vehicles confined to a track?
Then again, the whole movie here is awfully loud, especially for something that originally was intended to go straight to DVD. You can't blame the team at DisneyToon Studios for wanting the same opportunities for theatrical releases that Pixar gets, but when most of its projects involve unnecessary sequels that pander to 8-year-olds, it's hard to feel too sorry for it.
The straightforward approach and admittedly enjoyable aerial sequences of "Planes" almost makes up for its completely by-the-numbers story, but it just can't quite make it to the next level it wants to achieve. With at least one more feature already set to follow next year, you might want to strap in because the turbulence of mediocrity will make for a bumpy ride.
Andy Bockelman can be reached at 970-875-1793 or abockelman@CraigDailyPress.com.