Movie Review – Planes (2013)

Back in 2006, Walt Disney Pictures scored a major hit with Cars, an animated film that depicted cars and other vehicles as being alive with their own personalities.

The follow-up question was simple:  How could they expand the Cars universe?

That’s where the 2013 animated movie Planes comes into play.  Set within the Cars franchise, Planes is a spin-off film that takes a look at the high-speed world of air racing.  The story involves a crop duster airplane that dreams of doing something bigger with his life.  The crop duster gets involved in an international air race around the world and discovers that it’s going to take more than just horsepower and fancy flying to win this dangerous race.

Planes (2013) - movie poster

Planes (2013) – movie poster

Directed by Klay Hall, Planes stars Dane Cook as the voice of Dusty Crophopper, a crop duster with so much to prove.  Co-starring in the film are the voices of Stacy Keach, Brad Garrett, Cedric the Entertainer, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Gabriel Iglesias and John Cleese.  Even Val Kilmer and Anthony Edwards lend their voices as Navy fighter pilots (Top Gun, anyone?).

Planes (2013) - (c) Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Planes (2013) – (c) Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Planes begins high in the skies as Dusty Crophopper (voiced by Dane Cook), a crop duster, races through the skies against two hotshot Navy F/A-18E Super Hornet fighters.  Just as Dusty makes a pass and takes the lead in the race, all of a sudden Dusty wakes up from his daydream.

It turns out that Dusty is just an ordinary crop dusting airplane.  He and Leadbottom (voiced by Cedric the Entertainer), a biplane, are out spraying the farms around their home airfield of Propwash Junction, a small airport in the middle of nowhere.  Although Dusty dreams of one day racing in the prestigious Wings Around the Globe rally, Leadbottom thinks that Dusty spends too much time with his head in the clouds.  According to Leadbottom, the good life is really right there at Propwash Junction where it’s always sunny and quiet.

At Propwash Junction are Dusty’s friends, Chug (voiced by Brad Garrett), a fuel truck, and Sparky (voiced by Danny Mann), a forklift.  Inside one of the hangars is Dottie (voiced by Teri Hatcher), a forklift and mechanic.  Also at the airport is Skipper Riley (voiced by Stacy Keach), an F4U Corsair from World War 2.

Planes (2013) - (c) Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Planes (2013) – (c) Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Dusty spends his time practicing for air racing with Chug as his trainer and spotter, though Chug really doesn’t know anything about the sport.  Skipper Riley watches Dusty from behind a window in a hanger, but he considers the crop duster to be more of a nuisance than a real air racer.

Even though Dottie thinks that Dusty is in no shape for air racing, he still pursues it.  Before leaving for a qualification run for the Wings Around the Globe race, he seeks the wisdom of Skipper Riley.  However, Skipper is not willing to talk to Dusty as he thinks the crop duster is in over his head.  Dusty is on his own for making it into the race.

Planes (2013) - (c) Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Planes (2013) – (c) Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

The qualification run for the Wings Around the Globe is held at the Lincoln Airport in Lincoln, Nebraska.  The top airplane at the qualifier is Ripslinger (voiced by Roger Craig Smith), a custom-built aircraft.  Ripslinger has won several of the Wings Around the Globe races and he plans on keeping his winning streak alive.  At the end of the day, Dusty is the last airplane to try to qualify for the race.  Although the other airplanes think that it’s a joke having a crop duster trying to compete with the more powerful aircraft, Dusty finishes in sixth place and earns most of their respect.  Unfortunately for Dusty, you have to qualify in fifth or better to be accepted into the Wings Around the Globe race.

However, all is not lost.

Just after Dusty returns to Propwash Junction, Roper (voiced by Sinbad), a forklift who works for Wings Around the Globe, informs Dusty that the airplane that finished ahead of him in fifth place was caught using illegal aviation fuel.  That airplane was disqualified and Dusty advances to fifth place, thus earning a racing slot in the Wings Around the Globe.

Planes (2013) - (c) Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Planes (2013) – (c) Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Now that Dusty has proven that he can fly fast enough to qualify for the prestigious international air race, suddenly Skipper Riley decides that it’s time to teach Dusty a few tips on how to fly even better and faster.  Since Skipper is known for being a legendary navy pilot back in World War 2, Dusty gladly takes his advice.  Skipper steps up a basic racing course and teaches Dusty how to fly better and faster, making him a worthy opponent in the air race.

Planes (2013) - (c) Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Planes (2013) – (c) Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Dusty then flies to New York City for the start of the Wings Around the Globe air race.  At the airport he meets other racers such as Bulldog (voiced by John Cleese), a de Havilland DH.88 Comet, Ishani (voiced by Priyanka Chopra), an AeroCad AeroCanard, El Chupacabra (voiced by Carlos Alazraqui), a Gee Bee Model R, and Rochelle (voiced by Julia-Louis Dreyfus), a French-Canadian twin-engine airplane with a V-tail.

Planes (2013) - (c) Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Planes (2013) – (c) Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

The Wings Around the Globe race begins and the airplanes take to the skies.  The first leg is a race from New York City to Iceland.  While the other airplanes fly high above the water, Dusty stays low (he has a fear of heights and doesn’t like going above 1,000 feet above the ground) and is more prone to the icy weather conditions.  He also has to dodge icebergs floating in the northern Atlantic Ocean.  By the time that Dusty arrives in Iceland, he’s already in last place.

Planes (2013) - (c) Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Planes (2013) – (c) Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

The second leg of the air race takes the racers from Iceland to Germany.  It’s night when the aircraft arrive in Germany, and they’re flying around racing pylons as they make their way to their destination airfield.  Suddenly the Bulldog loses an engine and has oil spray onto his windshield, temporarily blinding him.  Dusty flies on the Bulldog’s wing and guides him to safety (including a close pass by Neuschwanstein Castle), knowing that it’s costing him precious time in the race.  Dusty finishes that leg in last place, but he has earned the Bulldog’s respect.

The third leg stretches from Germany to India, Ishani’s home country.  During this leg Dusty begins to show off his racing skills and he advances in the standings.  He doesn’t win this leg, but he’s making an impression on the other racers and the media as well.

Planes (2013) - (c) Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Planes (2013) – (c) Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

The next leg of the race is going to take the racers through the mighty Himalaya Mountains, the tallest mountains on Earth.  Dusty calls Skipper and asks for his advice, and Skipper tells him not to tempt himself and fly through the mountains.  Play is safe and stay above them.  The mountains themselves are very steep and the wind currents can knock him out of the sky.  But when Dusty takes a flight with Ishani and gets to know her, she tells him to stay low and follow a railroad track through the mountains.  It’s a shortcut that’ll safely get him through the mountains ahead of the other racers.

Planes (2013) - (c) Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Planes (2013) – (c) Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

The fourth leg is from India to Nepal.  Although this leg is shorter than the other ones in the race, this leg is deadlier because of the Himalayas.  Dusty follows Ishani’s advice and stays low and on top of the railroad tracks.  It’s a trap though as the tracks lead straight into a dangerous valley and then head through a mountain in a tunnel.  Dusty tries to climb up and go over the mountain, but it’s too high.  Instead of turning back and losing valuable time in the race, Dusty risks it all and flies his crop duster through the train tunnel.  He barely clears the walls and narrowly misses an oncoming train on the opposite side of the mountain.

Dusty’s gamble works and he finishes the fourth leg in first place, surprising everybody, including Ripslinger.  It turns out that Ripslinger gave Ishani a powerful propeller for her engine in exchange of intentionally giving Dusty bad advice.

Leg number five in the race takes the airplanes from Nepal to China.  Dusty maintains his lead and finishes again in first.  His victories have been inspiring his fans into believing that a nobody can rise up and challenge the best in the business.

Planes (2013) - (c) Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Planes (2013) – (c) Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

That night at the airport in China, Dusty teaches his friend El Chupacabra how to better seduce Rochelle.  His tips work and El Chupacabra scores with Rochelle.

Planes (2013) - (c) Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Planes (2013) – (c) Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

The sixth leg of the Wings Around the World race takes the racers over the vast Pacific Ocean from China to Mexico.  It’s crucial for the racers to have a working navigation system as there are virtually no reference points in the ocean.  At one point in the leg Ripslinger’s henchmen, Ned and Zed (both voiced by Gabriel Iglesias) knock the GPS antenna off of Dusty, disabling his most powerful navigation instrument.  Dusty then wanders around lost and looking for Hawaii when he’s intercepted by Bravo (voiced by Val Kilmer) and Echo (voiced by Anthony Edwards), two Navy fighter aircraft.  He’s quickly escorted to the USS Flysenhower aircraft carrier for an emergency landing.  Dusty successfully lands without damaging himself.

On board the aircraft carrier, Dusty sees a wall dedicated to the pilots in Skipper’s old fighter squadron, the Jolly Wrenches.  But when he finds the Skipper, Dusty discovers that he only flew one mission as opposed to his stories of flying many missions and shooting down fifty enemy aircraft.  In other words, Skipper has been a liar.

Dusty makes a radio call and tries to talk about this discovery to Skipper, but there’s no time as a storm is approaching the aircraft carrier.  Dusty’s aircraft has been repaired and refueled, and one of the carrier’s catapults launches him back into the sky.  The aircraft is too distracted by his discovery about the Skipper, and Dusty crashes his aircraft into a large wave.  He’s later rescued by a search-and-rescue team and then given a lift the rest of the way to the airport in Mexico.

Planes (2013) - (c) Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Planes (2013) – (c) Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Skipper, Chug and Dottie were all waiting in Mexico to celebrate Dusty’s success in the race, and to continue cheering for him to win.  That has now changed as Dusty is now a broken and depressed airplane.  He has too many damaged parts to continue racing.

Planes (2013) - (c) Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Planes (2013) – (c) Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Skipper finally tells Dusty the story of what really happened in World War 2 and why he only has one mission to his credit.  It was Skipper’s first mission and they were flying reconnaissance , keeping on the lookout for Japanese ships.  They spot a single ship and Skipper gives in to the urging of his fellow pilots, and they dive and attack it, thinking that it would be an easy target.  Unfortunately, when they emerge from the clouds, they discover that it’s a whole fleet and not just a single ship.  The Japanese ships attack and all of Skipper’s squadron is shot down.  The Skipper was the only aircraft to be recovered and returned to the aircraft carrier.  After that disaster he refused to fly any more missions.

Planes (2013) - (c) Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Planes (2013) – (c) Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Dusty’s spirits improve the following morning when all of his fellow competitors (except for Ripslinger) donate parts for him to be repaired and built to fly even faster.  Ishani donates the fancy propeller given to her by Ripslinger.  Dottie quickly gets to work and Dusty is ready to fly at the start of the final leg of the race around the world.

When the final race begins, Dusty is held back by race officials and made to serve a time penalty.  When he finally takes to the air he has some serious catching up to do.  Dusty stays low to the ground, hauls ass, and eventually passes the other racers and catches up with Ripslinger and Ned and Zed.

Planes (2013) - (c) Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Planes (2013) – (c) Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

When they’re flying through a desert and out of the media’s camera range, Ripslinger, Ned and Zed gang up and attack Dusty.  They try to make him crash into the ground.  Suddenly Skipper flies down and attacks Ripslinger, allowing Dusty to escape.  Dusty and Skipper then team up to take out Ned and Zed in the canyon.  It works and those two aircraft are out of the race.

Planes (2013) - (c) Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Planes (2013) – (c) Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

By now Ripslinger has pulled ahead while going into the final stretch of the leg.  To catch up with him, Dusty remembers what Skipper told him of the fast upper-level winds.  Dusty flies high, receives a boost in speed from a strong tailwind, and he catches Ripslinger.  Dusty then dives and makes a last second pass to beat Ripslinger to the finish line, winning the Race Around the Globe.  The racers congratulate Dusty and Skipper thanks him for giving him the confidence to fly again.

Planes (2013) - (c) Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Planes (2013) – (c) Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Planes ends with Dusty and Skipper returning to the USS Flysenhower with both of them honorary members of the Jolly Wrenches.

So is Planes a good movie?

Not really.

Although the characters are somewhat amusing and the animation looks good (especially the aircraft), the story itself seems like a watered down version of Cars.  Been there, done that.

Those same characters that were somewhat amusing were also flat and unemotional.  It felt like there was no real connection with any of them.  Did it really matter if Dusty Crophopper won or lost the race in the end?  Could Ripslinger could have at least tried to be a little more sinister so we would feel better with him losing the final leg of the race?  Could there have just been a better story in general, something that didn’t feel like a ripoff of Cars?

One of the problems with Planes was that allegedly it was originally set to be a direct-to-video release in North America.  This was later changed when the producers saw completed segments and thought that it would be better to give the film a theatrical release in North America.  That tells you that the producers originally didn’t believe that Planes had a good enough story to do well in the theaters.  The final product makes it seem like the producers should have just stuck with their original plan of making this film direct-to-video.

Planes isn’t a terrible film.  I really do like many of the airplanes in this film even if they aren’t even close to being accurately represented as they would in real life.  The planes do look good and the movie inspires me to load Microsoft’s Flight Simulator.

Planes (2013) – movie trailer

Fans of the Cars films and the younger audiences will gain the most from Planes.  Don’t look for any deep meanings or serious messages here.  This is really a basic film with a simple plot that seems like it was created just to cash in on a franchise rather than adding anything useful to it.  The movie seems so cartoony and childish at times (especially with the flight physics) that it seems more like cut scenes from a video game rather than a full-length animated film.

Planes‘ sequel, Planes: Fire & Rescue, is scheduled to be released on July 18, 2014.  One can only hope that the sequel will be a better film than the original.

two stars

Dusty Crophopper – “I’m just trying to prove that maybe, just maybe, I can do more than what I was built for.”

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Dusty Crophopper – “I’ve flown thousands and thousands of miles, and have never gone anywhere.”

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