High flying fun for the boys

Flight-ready: Dusty and his vehicular buddies in Disney's Planes.
Flight-ready: Dusty and his vehicular buddies in Disney's Planes.

Promoted as coming from ‘above the world of Cars’, Planes is about exactly what one would expect – planes of all shapes and sizes.

Extending the world of Disney Pixar success Cars from the road to the sky, Planes borrows the humanised characteristics of its ground-bound counterparts (namely eyes and mouths) but fails to quite capture the expensive sheen of the bigger budget franchise.

Planes is essentially a formulaic underdog sports film for kids, with a crop-duster named Dusty Crophopper (voiced by Dane Cook, of Good Luck Chuck) playing the Rocky Balboa role. It has all the tropes of an inspirational, against-all-odds sporting flick, with a crusty mentor, a smug frontrunner, and a supportive buddy, not to mention the small-town-boy-in-the-big-city convention to cap things off.

Dusty is a plane who dreams of bigger and better things than merely dusting crops every day. To prove he is more than a lowly worker plane – “built for seed, not speed” – Dusty enters the prestigious ‘Wings Around the Globe Rally’, a global air race completed in stages.

To complicate matters, Dusty is a plane afraid of heights, having never flown above 100 yards. The animators have clearly drawn inspiration from Alfred Hitchcock’s Veritgo to demonstrate Dusty’s fear, but they would have been better served paying homage to another Hitchock classic – North by Northwest.

In a film with a crop-duster as a main character, Planes missed a massive opportunity to reference the legendary 1959 film.

The film sends a positive message to children about striving for their dreams, no matter the obstacles in your path. Dusty is reminded that “it’s not how fast you fly, but how you fly fast” – that the way you run your race is more important than the end result.

Young boys will enjoy Planes far more than young girls. Everything in the film seems to be catered to boys – the music is more rocking and couldn’t be further from recent Disney hits Tangled and Frozen, the female characters are mostly there to make up the numbers, and, by their vehicular nature, planes have a greater male appeal.

While there isn’t much for the adults to enjoy in Planes, a brilliant piece of voice casting should bring a smile to the lips of Top Gun fans – Anthony Edwards and Val Kilmer, Goose and Iceman themselves, have brief roles as fighter jets (stationed on the ‘USS Dwight D Flysenhower’) named Echo and Bravo.

In another piece of inspired casting, or Disney marketing genius, the character of Australian plane Rochelle was recast for the Australian release of Planes. Packed to the Rafters star Jessica Marais, taking over from the American release voice of Julia Louis-Dreyfus, brings a genuine Aussie quality to the competitive plane. On the downside, the ‘Rochelle, Rochelle’ Seinfeld connection Louis-Dreyfus added to the original is lost.

The highlight of Planes, for older viewers, is picking up on the aviation-inspired dialogue, with phrases such as “for flying out loud”, kicking “Aston Martins out there”, and “ladies and gentleplanes” dotting the film.

A sub-plot involving Dusty’s mentor, Skipper (Stacy Keach, The Bourne Legacy) is strangely heavy for a light kids’ film. A veteran of World War II, Skipper suffers from many demons and has not flown in years. The sequences exploring Skipper’s past are the most visually exciting in the film.

Planes also features the voices of John Cleese (Fawlty Towers) as British competitor Bulldog, Brad Garrett (Everybody Loves Raymond) as Dusty’s dimwitted yet lovable friend Chug, and Teri Hatcher (Desperate Housewives) as the reliable ‘mechanic’ Dottie.

During the final credits Disney promises that Dusty Crophopper will return in Planes: Fire and Rescue, so fans of the film will have something new to look forward too.

Planes is available to buy on DVD, Blu-ray and digitally from April 9 and is rated G.