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posted: 8/8/2013 6:00 AM

'Planes' takes a dive from regular Disney animated comedies

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  • Dusty the crop dusting airplane (voiced by Dane Cook) dreams of racing the fighter jets from "Top Gun" in Disney's 3-D animated comedy "Planes."

    Dusty the crop dusting airplane (voiced by Dane Cook) dreams of racing the fighter jets from "Top Gun" in Disney's 3-D animated comedy "Planes."

  • Video: "Planes" trailer


Ishani, the nicely proportioned Indian air vehicle in Walt Disney's 3-D animated comedy "Planes," tells Dusty Crophopper that in her culture, her fellow Indian airplanes believe they will be recycled into tractors.

"I believe in recycling!" Dusty tells her.

Apparently, so do Walt Disney animators who recycle huge chunks of Pixar's underwhelming 2006 release "Cars" mixed in with spare parts from 1986's military aviator drama "Top Gun," topped off with a nod to Alfred Hitchcock's "Vertigo" and yet one more dip into the unimagination well for its well-worn plot involving another epic race.

Kids enchanted by bright colors, 3-D visuals and endless tracking shots of prop planes soaring and looping in the air might remain engaged by (mostly TV) director Klay Hall's generically formulaic animated feature, all about an airplane with a personality quirk: He's afraid of heights.

Conveniently, not all heights, otherwise he would never take off. Just the ones so high up in the clouds that they give him panic attacks and vertigo.

Dane Cook applies his affable voice to the role of Dusty, a one-propeller crop duster with dreams of becoming a race plane.

"Planes" opens with a daydream in which speedy Dusty challenges two fighter jets named Bravo and Echo (voiced by "Top Gun" stars Val Kilmer and Anthony Edwards) to a race.

Dusty wakes up to his humdrum existence as a lowly crop duster spewing fertilizer and pesticides over the same fields year after year.

"I'm more than just a crop duster!" he asserts. And in the Disney world, to dream it is to be it. Eventually.

He receives support from a gruff old fueling truck named Chug (Brad Garrett, voicing a recycled version of Mater from the "Cars" comedies), Chug even reads "Air Racing For Dummies" to help out.

Things take a serious turn when an insecure Dusty finally seeks out advice from the airport's mysterious resident, a grounded World War II fighter plane named Skipper (voiced by Stacy Keech).

He becomes Dusty's reluctant mentor, filled with advice on how to increase speed, including tapping into air streams and dumping excess weight, such as Dusty's clunky spraying apparatus.

Except that the Skipper completely misses this. It's not until Dusty is well into the big international race that a friendly airplane suggests removing it.

The competition resembles a United Nations of airplanes: Rochelle the French flyer (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), India's Ishani (Priyhanka Chopra), the British Bulldog (John Cleese), the exuberant Mexican romantic El Chupakabra (Carlos Alazraqui) and the American champion Ripslinger (Roger Craig Smith), the baddie out to sabotage this new crop-duster upstart for daring to be what he was not designed to be.

Outside of aviation puns (an aircraft carrier is named the Dwight D. Flysenhower) and retreaded references to "Top Gun" and "Cars" (both 1 and 2), "Planes" spirals into a dive of witless dialogue in Jeffrey M. Howard's pedestrian screenplay, weighed down by such overused clichés as "Awesome!" "That's what I'm talkin' about!" and "Oh, that's going to leave a mark!"

Reportedly, Disney intended "Planes" to be a direct-to-video movie, not up to the standards of a John Lassiter-directed, big screen Pixar production.

Yet, here it is, an innocuously silly movie in which supportive female aircraft hover around the male protagonist with their flaps down and their engines idling, cheering on the little plane who could.

"Bolting on a few new parts doesn't change who you are!" nasty Ripslinger says to Dusty.

Apparently, in this movie, it does.

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