DVD Release Date: November 19, 2013
Theatrical Release Date: August 9, 2013
Rating: PG (some mild action and rude humor)
Genre: Animation | Adventure | Comedy
Run Time: 92 minutes
Director: Klay Hall
Cast: Dane Cook, Stacy Keach, Brad Garrett, Teri Hatcher, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, John Cleese, Priyanka Chopra, Cedric the Entertainer, Val Kilmer, Anthony Edwards, Sinbad

From "above the world of Cars" comes a high-flying, small-town-boy-makes-good story: Planes. Dusty Crophopper (voice of Dane Cook, Dan in Real Life) is a scrappy crop duster who dreams of glory. Specifically, he wants to compete in (and win, of course) the ultimate aerial sporting event: a grueling race called "Wings Around the Globe." Two problems: Dusty is built for utility, not speed... and he's afraid of heights. His fear's not an issue when he’s just spraying pungent fertilizer across local fields at low altitude, but crossing stormy seas and climbing over the Himalayas could be another story. It will be a long journey (in more ways than one) and require the help of friends old and new to turn Dusty's high hopes into reality.

As you'd expect in the world of Cars, groan-worthy puns are laid down thickly. Director Klay Hall (in his debut theatrical release) is the son of a Navy pilot, so he treats the planes with proper respect. They may be animated, but they're not superheroes; the laws of physics and mechanical issues common to real planes also apply to our winged friends here.

That group includes all the usual suspects. The older-and-wiser mentor is Skipper (Stacy KeachThe Bourne Legacy), an old Navy Corsair with secrets in his past who learns a few things from his student. And no competition story is complete without a villain, and Ripslinger (Roger Craig Smith) fills the bill as a superstar racer who believes his own press releases and will do whatever it takes to stay on top. There’s Dusty's dim-witted but loyal friend Chug the fuel truck (Brad Garrett, Finding Nemo), and the character who tries to keep Dusty grounded in reality, Dottie (Teri Hatcher, Coraline) the devoted forklift/mechanic. Nothing unexpected among this crew, but they're all charming enough.

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Some of the other characters are a bit more problematic. Mexican racer El Chupacabra (voiced by Carlos Alazraqui) is a racial stereotype some might find insulting. Fortunately, he outgrows most of the caricature and his love-struck attempt at a serenade will melt more than one heart. Casting Monty Python’s John Cleese as Bulldog, England’s entry into the race, seems like a genius idea but his performance is nothing special. However, Bollywood movie star Priyanka Chopra adds a nice note of exotic mystery as metallic femme fatale Ishani, who charms Dusty right off his landing gear. There's also a fun nod to Top Gun when fighter jets Bravo and Echo (voices of Val Kilmer and Anthony Edwards) show up just when needed most.

Over the years Disney and Pixar have made so many magical movies... but this is not one of them (by way of explanation, Planes is a Disney movie that takes place in the world of another Disney-Pixar movie, but is not technically a Pixar film. Make sense?). It's not bad, it's just not awesome. There are certainly worse options out there (a recent release about little blue people, for example). Planes is cute, funny, kind of sweet, and forgettable. That’s a shame, because a good little-engine-that-could story is always inspirational. Unfortunately, there's a 'been there, done that' quality to this spin-off that makes it almost impossible to get off the ground, even for cute talking machines and a high-powered cast. Word on the street is this film was originally slated as a direct-to-DVD release; that probably would have been the better choice.

All in all, Planes is an agreeable story about a likeable little guy trying to reach for the stars (or given Dusty's issues with heights, to reach for the clouds). While the outcome is never in doubt, families can expect a pleasant flight.

CAUTIONS (may contain spoilers):

  • Drugs/Alcohol: One of the planes is disqualified for using illegal fuel. As the race progresses, several 'watch parties' are shown in the mechanical world's equivalent of bars; the machines drink oil so it's not exactly alcohol, but the equivalent.
  • Language/Profanity: No profanity, but some name-calling.
  • Sex/Nudity: Just a sweet romance between two planes; he is shown covered in lipstick kisses and repeatedly pulled off camera to gather more.
  • Violent/Frightening/Intense: Some of the aerial fighting may be intense for little ones, but most likely not. In a flashback sequence some planes are blown up and it is inferred that they died.
  • Spiritual Themes: When the race stops in India the "wild tractors" are referred to as sacred and the Indian plane says "some believe we are recycled as tractors" in a reference to reincarnation. Dusty is a hero for anyone who wants to "become more than you’re built for," but doesn’t that mean the one who built you didn’t know what he was doing? It sounds inspiring at first but on further reflection seems a bit of a slur on the creator (which for a plane is not a big deal, but for a person whose Creator is God, that’s another story). On the plus side, Dusty makes it clear that people... er, planes... are more important than winning, and his virtue is eventually rewarded.

Publication date: August 9, 2013