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Let’s say this upfront: Planes isn’t a Pixar production. But with John Lasseter—chief creative officer at both Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios—as executive producer, this movie is clearly a follow-up to Lasseter’s 2006 Pixar production, Cars, and its brightly colored trucks and planes invoke the same imaginary terrain.
The Disney production also resumes Cars’ racing storyline, though in this case, we follow a plane named Dusty Crophopper. Dusty (Dane Cook) is on his way from uninspired crop duster to world class racing contender. But that’s not an easy transition when you’ve got enemies like Ripslinger (Roger Craig Smith) who’ll stop at nothing to ground you, and friends who echo put-downs that you’re “built for seed, not for speed.”
When Dusty qualifies for a race around the globe, though, his friends rally behind him. His mechanic, Dottie (Terri Hatcher), joins his best friend, Chug (Brad Garrett), to form a first-class support team. Most importantly, Skipper (Stacy Keach), the WWII vet with a skull tattoo, takes Dusty under his wing and prepares him to face his biggest challenge—his fear of heights.
For all its familiarity, there is new ground covered here. Because the race involves planes from around the world, supporting characters range from the bizarre (i.e., Tibetan monk and burka-wearing trucks) to the beautiful. But most of the religious references have a humorous twist. And with John Cleese and Cedric the Entertainer in tow, there are plenty of laughs along the way.
Still, that’s not to say this movie has the heart of a Pixar classic. The complicated plot may be hard for younger viewers to follow, and it lacks the emotional punch of a Toy Story. Christian parents also may want to discuss the central idea that to succeed, Dusty had to supersede what he “was built for.”
Rated PG for mild action and rude humor, Planes sputters at times. But for kids who love the Cars milieu, it’ll get them where they want to go.