Okay, if your lead character is a crop-dusting plane named Dusty (as voice by consummate wise acre Dane Cook), and his idea of a boring life is to go back and forth over the same patch of dirt dusting crops, who exactly is consuming said crops? Okay, it took me a while to get this, but a case is made at the beginning of the film about organic fuels, including those made from corn, which I believe is Dusty's crop of choice.
Let me try another one. If you're a former Navy fighter plane named Skipper (Stacy Keach, sounding a lot like Paul Newman did in the original CARS), and you have a couple dozen "kills" under your belt, who did you kill exactly if your entire world is nothing but talking vehicles, such as cars, trucks, fork lifts, aircraft carriers, ships, helicopters and, yes, planes? And who is running these warring nations of planes? A fleet of limousines?
As the opening titles say, the new Disney (not Pixar, mind you, even thought the John Ratzenberger is included) animated film PLANES is set in the "World of CARS," and, in fact, there are quite a few cars and trucks in this film. There are even signs of cross-vehicle relationships, which I'm sure thrills car supremacists to no end. But in all seriousness, this little feather-light story that bears a striking resemble to the first CARS movie is pretty cute and utterly harmless. The jokes are harmless and not that funny, but I'm guessing kids the ages of the ones that made CARS such a massive hit will enjoy them. I'll admit, even I got a little caught up in PLANES, partly because the animation is so impressive and also because I was dying to find out how the filmmakers put a face on an aircraft carrier.
Dusty wants to end his days as a crop duster and become the first of his kind to race in a famous around-the-world jaunt, which sounds crazy to start with until you add in that Dusty is afraid of heights, and then it sounds impossible. But with the help of some of his farmland friends, including Skipper, he learns to fly like a racer against the multi-time winner Ripslinger (Roger Craig Smith). There's some really fun voice work from the likes of Brad Garrett, Teri Hatcher, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, John Cleese and, in a nod to the many Top Gun-like military aircraft moments in the film, Val Kilmer and Anthony Edwards.
Dusty is just your run-of-the-mill nice guy, which means he doesn't fit in with the other racers that are far too concerned with winning to help out their fellow global travelers when one of them gets in trouble. But eventually his good-guy, sportsmanlike conduct begins to rub off on the other contestants. The lessons and themes in PLANES are vague at best, but sometimes keeping things ethically uncomplicated is the best way to go in family entertainment. Director Klay Hall keeps things peppy and moving, while the animation is remarkably crisp and realistic most of the time. It is absolutely not essential that you see the film in 3-D, but since almost all of the action takes place in brightly lit, daylight conditions, it actually looks pretty good.
There is no after-credits tag in PLANES, but there's something far more interesting (if not necessary): there's the promise of a sequel in about a year's time of PLANES: FIRE & RESCUE, so whether you like it or not, if your kids like this one, you won't have to wait three years for the next installment. Aren't you the luckiest parent on the face of the earth? Me? I'm still trying to figure out why there's so much death and destruction in this film, and where all the humans have disappeared to. It's freaking me out, man.