For a movie that was originally planned to be a direct-to-DVD release and borrows heavily from the plot of "Cars II" "Planes" offers some high-flying fun.
"Planes" draws on a common theme of Disney movies: A young dreamer longs for a bigger life. In this case, it's Dusty, a crop-dusting plane (voiced by Dane Cook) who's in a tailspin over his ambition to be a racing plane. As with so many Disney movies, that dream is chased with the help of some quirky friends and stalled by evildoers. Win, lose or get drawn, the journey is the most important part of the story.
Dusty's dream becomes a reality when he lands a spot in an around-the-globe race against some of the best planes in the world. The most engaging competitor is wannabe Latin lover El Chupacabra (Carlos Alazraqui), who trades racing tips for romance lessons from Dusty. As planes go, he's a dashing figure with his lucha libre mask and cape.
It wouldn't be an animated Disney movie without a good villain. Ripslinger (Roger Craig Smith) and his winged minions Ned and Zed (both voiced by Gabriel Iglesias) provide the turbulence to make Dusty's efforts more difficult.
Director Klay Hall balances the land and air worlds of the planes. When the winged warriors are on the ground, they take on human characteristics. Once they take off, the planes move so tightly within the confines of flying physics there are moments when it looks more like real footage than animation.
Hall's voice talent is on target with John Cleese as the proper British plane and Priyanka Chopra providing a bedroom voice for the Asian entry, Ishani. One of the smartest voice castings is Teri Hatcher as Dottie, the forklift who takes care of Dusty. Hall could have gone with a male voice, but with Hatcher he not only offers a great message about gender but an actress who brings great emotion to voice work.
The most inspired voice casting is using "Top Gun" actors Anthony Edwards and Val Kilmer to speak for two military jets, Echo and Bravo.
Jeffrey Howard's script offers sentimental moments, huge action scenes and jokes that adults will enjoy. In this airplane world, tractors are allowed to run free in India instead of cows. It's hard to find a balance of material that will entertain youngsters and keep adults from getting bored, but this film finds that proper altitude. Howard also has given the film a strong core message about following your dreams.
"Planes" isn't going to join the pantheon of great animated Disney movies, but when it comes to light entertainment, it takes off smoothly, glides along on a sweet script and lands softly on a nice message.
"Planes," rated PG for mild action, rude humor. Stars Dane Cook, Teri Hatcher, Carlos Alazraqui, Roger Craig Smith, Priyanka Chopra. Directed by Klay Hall. Running time: 92 minutes. Grade: B Theater and times
TV and movie critic Rick Bentley can be reached at (559) 441-6355, firstname.lastname@example.org or @RickBentley1 on Twitter. Read his blog at fresnobeehive.com.