In the event that you wonder how in the world the Pixar Cars franchise morphed into the Disney Planes universe (of which this film is the first of a proposed trilogy), let’s take a look at the interesting road that led to the piece’s development. After the merger of Disney and Pixar (a union affectionately termed Pixney); the lines between the two companies were forever blurred to the point where Pixar works (like Brave) bear the names of almost none of the individuals typically associated with Pixar while Disney pieces like the Tinker Bell films, Tangled, Frozen, and Planes boast Executive Production duties by none other than Pixar poster-boy John Lasseter.
Planes actually takes the connection quite a bit further by crediting Lasseter as one of the writers, cameos John Ratzenberger (who appears in every one of Pixar’s productions) as Harland and follows Pixar’s impeccable attention to detail concerning such details as actual plane make/ model likeness, geography, historical accuracy and so on. Yet the fact remains the film isn’t considered a Pixar production and in fact comes to us from the typically direct-to-dvd branch of the Diz known as DisneyToon Studios (who’s last theatrical release takes us back to 2005 in the form of Pooh's Heffalump Movie). Planes too was supposed to be a direct-to-dvd affair with a fairly modest budget of $50-mil but thanks to a theatrical release gap left between Monsters University and Frozen, Planes got the nod to debut on the big screen on August 9, 2013.
Confused? Don’t be- all of the behind-the-scenes antics in the world do not a good (or bad) movie make. Fortunately Planes has the advantage of sitting atop a very long line of animated film experience. While critics weren’t particularly enamored with the film, I can attest that it succeeds on a lot of levels where the much costlier ($200-mil) 2011 blockbuster Cars 2 fails. But before we get to all of that, perhaps a brief summary is in order.
Planes follows the exploits of crop duster Dusty Crophopper (Dane Cook) who holds down steady employment at a Midwest cornfield while practicing aerobatic maneuvers in his spare time and dreaming of the fame and excitement of air racing.
Keeping his dreams forever out of reach, his boss, Leadbottom (Cedric the Entertainer) and his forklift mechanic friend, Dottie (Teri Hatcher) keep reminding Dusty that he was built for the very specific purpose of dusting crops. However, his good hearted fuel truck friend, Chug (Brad Garrett); think a less redneck but equally innocent Mater, begins training him in private. The night before the qualifiers, Dusty asks an elderly and reclusive navy war plane named Skipper Riley (Stacy Keach) to teach him how to race. What follows is a global race adventure rife with personified planes from several nations; some friendly others not so much.
Coming in at a runtime of 92-minutes and wearing a PG rating, Planes works on the tried and true “underdog out of his league” formula and delivers some pretty genuine laughs along the way. Sure it’s nothing we haven’t collectively seen before, but what Planes lacks in originality it makes up for with heart. That and some really nice aerial scenes that (unlike say Cars 2’s action sequences), don’t take away from the subtle charm of the narrative in the process.
If you really care about small details you may notice a whole plethora of little adult-enjoyable spices scattered about like Val Kilmer and Anthony Edwards as Naval fighter jets; essentially the Planes versions of their Top Gun characters complete with Iceman and Goose helmets to boot.
In all Planes doesn’t succeed in spite of its simplicity and relatively modest budget but because of these things. In an industry becoming ever more inflated in terms of budget and eye-candy, Planes is a refreshing romp in a franchise that seemed to have lost its way a bit in its first dedicated sequel. Whether or not diving directly into a trilogy is a wise move is yet to be determined but considering the first Planes movie cost $50-mil to make and has already taken in $220-million, it’s a safe bet to say we’ll be visiting this anthropomorphic world of transportation for years to come.