Since acquiring Pixar, Walt Disney Studios has had an ambitious animation schedule with a goal of releasing at least three productions per year. In 2013 that includes: Monsters University, Frozen and Planes. The latter is the first film in the planned Planes trilogy. While that may be good for audiences looking for more family entertainment, such a rigorous agenda can lead to mediocrity if the quality of storyline and animation is sacrificed for quantity.
Taking to the skies with an adventure that feels like a close cousin to Cars, Planes is the tale of a crop duster named Dusty (voice by Dane Cook) who wants to compete in a famous aerial race around the world. While he is enthusiastic, hard working and eager to fly with the best international competitors, he has one small problem. He’s afraid of heights.
Getting off to a lagging start, Planes follows Dusty up and down the field as he spews out a nasty smelling vita mix on the crop below while imaging himself in a tight heat for the finish line. Although his coworker Leadbottom (voice by Cedric the Entertainer) and his mechanic Dottie (voice by Teri Hatcher) can’t understand why the little propeller plane would want to leave the farm in search of fame, Chug the refueling truck (voice by Brad Garrett) encourages Dusty’s dream. After work, he coaches the little orange and white flyer through a training routine that includes silo buzzing, tight turns and speed.
Unfortunately with the time trials for the Wings Around the World tour fast approaching, Dusty has to admit he needs some tips from someone who can actually get airborne. Mustering all his courage, he taxis down the runway and knocks on the door of Skipper (voice by Stacy Keach), an old warship who lives a secluded existence at the end of the airfield. Although it takes some convincing, Skipper finally agrees to help Dusty prep for the competition.
Thankfully the story gets some air once the starting gun fires, sending the fleet of international aircraft racing around the globe. But anyone who has seen a crop duster putter around the countryside knows there is no way one could compete with the likes of Ripslinger (voice by Roger Craig Smith), a mean-spirited, custom-built carbon-fiber speed machine who is out to defend his title.
Like most other Pixar-led productions, this one is not for the youngest of viewers despite the colorful characters and comical antics. In one scene a squadron of warplanes explodes into flames and crashes into the ocean after being shot down by enemy ships. Another character, caught in a storm over the sea, crashes into the rough waters and appears to drown. Repeated bullying and other moments of peril may also be too scary. Even the script’s depiction of positive international relations might be lost on the kids.
However Dusty’s willingness to sacrifice his hopes of winning to help another competitor, along with his kindness toward others, will make this little flying machine soar past many other movie heroes contending for your family’s entertainment dollars.