planes2W“Planes” is a new Disney animated release, billed as a “Cars” spinoff. And that’s exactly what it is – a kind of Cars-with-wings, which neither soars nor crashes.  I’m sorry to say, “Planes” is good, but not great.

The 3D animated film is the story of Dusty Crophopper (voiced by Dane Cook), a crop-dusting plane with dreams of competing as a high-flying air racer.  As you can imagine, Dusty’s not exactly built for racing—and he happens to be afraid of heights, so he turns to Skipper, a reclusive old navy corsair airplane (Stacy Keach), who helps the little plane qualify to take on the defending champ of the race circuit, Ripslinger (Roger Craig Smith, the voice of Sonic the Hedgehog in “Wreck it Ralph”).  Aided by fuel truck friend, Chug (Brad Garrett), who is no doubt poised to be the next ‘Mater’, and forklift Dottie (Teri Hatcher), Dusty takes off to follow his air-racing dreams.

There are a few clever moments in “Planes” that are geared to grownups, including a car sports announcer named Brent Mustangburger, voiced by human sports announcer Brent Mustberger, “Top Gun” alums Val Kilmer and Anthony Edwards voicing “Echo” and “Bravo,” a pair of naval military jets, Bulldog, the stiff-upper-lip British airliner – voiced by John Cleese, and of course, you mustn’t forget the obligatory cameo from Pixar’s good luck charm, John Ratzenberger.  But though the animation is beautiful, and the voice-over talents impressive, there just isn’t enough to justify releasing the film in theaters.

“Planes” promotional tagline is “Above the World of Cars.” Perhaps that’s the problem. The cars below have touching and sweet characters, the planes above, while cute, don’t have the necessary heart to make us care. The air is thin, and so is the plot.

It might be good to note that “Planes” was released under the umbrella of DisneyToons Studios, a division of Disney created exclusively to create and distribute straight-to-video animated features. And that was the original intent for “Planes.”  So why is it a 3D theatrical release?  My best guess is Disney is already working on a Planes attraction for their Disney’s California Adventure – home of the wildly successful Carsland.  Last year Disney’s California Adventure was the 2nd highest attended theme park worldwide, second only to The Magic Kingdom in Orlando, and a new Planes attraction would keep the revenue magic soaring. Disneyland is already planning a “land” based on their film “Oz the Great and Powerful”. These days, the Disney Theme Parks are the tail wagging the dog that is the Disney Film division.

“Planes” will do well as a theatrical release, and will do even better as a DVD release, and the toys and products and tie-ins with Jamba Juice, American Airlines and British Airways will be the frosting on the Synergy cake.

The Bottom Line: Stunning visuals, but very little heart, “Planes” hits turbulence very early on.  If the grandkids insist on seeing it in 3D, go for it, but I’d wait for the DVD.

Rated PG, for mild action and rude humor, 1 hr 32min.

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