Director – Klay Hall, Screenplay – Jeffrey Howard, Story – Klay Hall, Jeffrey Howard & John Lasseter, Producer – Traci Balthazor-Flynn, Music – Mark Mancina, CGI Animation – Prana Studio (Supervisor – Arudra Jaykar), Production Design – Ryan L. Carson. Production Company – DisneyToon Studios
Dane Cook (Dusty Crophopper), Stacy Keach (Skipper), Brad Garrett (Chug), Teri Hatcher (Dottie), Roger Craig Smith (Ripslinger), Carlos Alazraqui (El Chupacabra), Julia Louis-Dreyfus (Rochelle), Priyanka Chopra (Ishani), John Cleese (Bulldog), Cedric the Entertainer (Leadbottom), Oliver Kalkofe (Franz/Fliegenhosen)
In Propwash Junction, Dusty Crophopper is a small crop-dusting plane with dreams of being able to enter into Wings Around the Globe international flying race. He enters into the local try-outs and surprises everybody by coming in sixth place, only to be bumped up into a qualifying fifth place after one of the other planes is disqualified. He asks help in perfecting his moves from Skipper, an old retired plane with much World War II combat experience but is shamefully forced to confess that he has a fear of heights. As the international competition begins, Dusty must race several legs around the world. Up against Dusty is the champion Ripslinger who is contemptuous of a mere crop-duster being allowed into the race. Dusty surprises everybody by doing unexpectedly well in several of the laps. An enraged Ripslinger determines to sabotage Dusty’s chances of winning.
Planes, or to give it its full title on the credits, World of Cars: Planes, is a spinoff from Pixar’s Cars franchise, consisting of Cars (2006), Cars 2 (2011) and Cars 3 (2017). Although the Cars franchise was created by Pixar and John Lasseter, the director of both the Cars films (who is credited with the story here), World of Cars: Planes is not a Pixar film but is made by Pixar’s parent company Disney. We were first introduced to the world of Planes in Air Mater (2011), an episode of the short-lived tv series Mater’s Tall Tales, in which Mater visits Propwash Junction. Planes was originally intended as a direct-to-video sequel but the quality of the film so impressed studio heads that it was bumped up to a full theatrical release. Director Klay Hall has previously made Disney direct-to-video features with Tinkerbell and the Lost Treasure (2009) and screenwriter Jeffrey Howard had written several of these Tinkerbell films. Planes was intended as the first in a series of Cars spinoffs and the end credits announce the sequel Planes: Fire & Rescue (2014).
The concept of Planes is simply to extend Cars‘ idea of anthropomorphised vehicles to aircraft. Surprisingly, this is not a new concept and Disney had previously done anthropomorphic talking planes in one of the segments of the portmanteau film Saludos Amigos (1942). Here they do an amiable, even at times perfectly likeable, job of extending the idea. The story and characters are nothing new. The basic plot of the everyday hero from the country backwater with dreams of making it in a big competition who determines to enter despite ridicule and efforts by the established champion to sabotage him is almost identical to the story in DreamWorks’ Turbo (2013), which was released only three weeks earlier. The rest of the plot seems to borrow the basic idea that drove much of Cars 2 – where the story takes a trip around the world for a big race during which we are introduced to vehicles from various international locales and the studio has even inserted local vehicles in different countries where the film is released.
I liked Planes for the most part. It is amiable, reasonably well animated, the characters engage where they should, there is the odd amusing one-liner. Crucially though, it never lights things up the way you would have expected it to if it were a Pixar film. That’s the problem with World of Cars: Planes – it is a dvd-released spinoff on the big screen, better than most of its ilk, but still a paler shadow of its original. The background of the film is relatively plain in comparison to the rich visual tapestry of the average Pixar film. The characters feel like standard cut-outs – the hero seems like a slightly less worldwise knockoff of Lightning McQueen and even comes with a near-identical slow-witted companion and a wisely old-timer advising him. There are all the other familiar animation characters such as the old warbird whose glory days mask feet of clay, the cute temptress, the ego-puffed champion ruthlessly determined to keep his title, the Latino plane that overflows with hot-blooded romantic enthusiasm – but none of them seem to warm and endear you the way it makes you want to add them to your set of collectable figures.