YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK — It's only noon, but it's already been a busy day for Dane Cook. After flying into Fresno, he drove the two hours to Yosemite National Park to do interviews for "Planes: Fire & Rescue" in the shadow of mountains and trees.
"This is my second trip to Yosemite," a muscular Cook says. "I came here eight years ago for a wedding, but it was at night. This is my first time being here in the day. I'm hoping to get to see more of the park this time."
Cook just wrapped work on a feature film where he plays an astronaut, which explains his ripped muscles. He jokes that he didn't think it was right that the character looked like he had been doing nothing but sitting around eating.
Looks didn't matter for "Planes," the latest animated effort from Disney. Cook reprises his role as the voice of crop duster-turned-racing plane, Dusty, for the summer sequel. This time, the little-plane-that-could has gone from burning up aerial shows to fighting forest fires.
Working on the sequel was a little more physical than the 2013 "Planes." In the original film, much of the movie was completed when Cook was brought in to add the voice. Because he was with the sequel from its takeoff, Cook was filmed while delivering his lines and those images were used by the animators.
"I felt like right from the get-go there was more of my essence in the character. The animators picked up on certain moves I do. It's an incredible process to see that happen," Cook says.
Those expressions are important because Dusty has gone through some major emotional and personal changes since Cook first voiced the character. This time, Dusty has more maturity as he makes a serious life change. Instead of it being about his own aspiration, the sequel has Dusty looking more at what he can do for the community.
"There's a lot of growth in the character. The humility he's learning was particularly appealing to me and where I found a lot of the change in inflections and the nuance of the voice," Cook says. "The first film was charming and very sweet, but this film looks at more serious issues like Dusty's health.
"That's what I love about Disney animation, they allow characters to grow."
It's not only Dusty who's seen growth since the original movie.
Cook has always been aware of the power of words, but that awareness got cranked up when he stepped into the recording studio. He now works even harder to use all of the vocal tools in his arsenal to evoke emotion.
Cook calls voice work an effort to find "the emotional musicality" of delivering the words.
The animated film is just a part of the busy schedule Cook keeps as an actor, writer and comedian. He likes doing all three because they challenge him in different ways.
"Stand-up is so personal. I love the fear and connecting with a group of people," he says. "When I'm on a film set, I feel like it's such a different element because you are a piece of somebody else's vision. It's a collaborative effort to get to what the director's vision is. I get just as much pleasure whether I'm doing theater, film work or voice work. When it comes to the voice work, I want the animators to think they have too many options."
Just like Dusty, Cook loves the direction his career's taking him. He's thought about what it would be like to have to select a new life path. He's decided he would go back to his roots and look to work in the art world.
He's happy that's only a "what if" question because the comedy world touches him every day. When Cook is on tour, he will sign every autograph or listen to every story from fans because he knows without them there would be no stand-up, acting or voiceover career.
And, voicing Dusty has expanded his fan base to a much younger audience.
"That's something I've been aspiring to for a long time — something to connect with the next generation," Cook says. "Being a part of something that's so beautiful, thoughtful, fun is great."