planesThe first thing that pops up on the screen at the start of Planes is the title screen that reads “World of Cars”. For a select few, that’s a good sign, but for the rest of us, well…not so much. This is the kind of animated film that really only works for those in the single digit age group. It’s bright and shiny, but dumb as rocks. It’s also lacking that little extra effort that comes from a Pixar flick, which makes sense since Disney worked on this one on their own, originally as a direct to video feature (where it belongs). The occasional joke manages to land, but mostly this is one real tedious cartoon. Second tier voice casting doesn’t especially hurt it, but no one is mistaking Dane Cook for an ace voice actor. Director Klay Hall knows he’s making a kid’s movie, but he and writer Jeffrey M. Howard don’t even try to appeal to older folks by and large. When they halfheartedly do, things perks up just a bit, but for the most part this will amuse children and try the patience of parents. As a single guy at a press screening, I found myself just looking at my watch a lot…

Set in the same universe as the Cars franchise (make of that what you will), this time we’re focusing on the lives of planes (duh). Our hero is Dusty Crophopper (Cook), a crop dusting plane that harbors dreams of competing in a famous aerial race around the world. A crop duster has never even tried out for something like this before though, so the odds are decidedly not in Dusty’s favor. To make matters worse, Dusty is completely terrified of heights, so he only flies low to the ground. He believes in himself though, and so does his mentor Skipper (Stacy Keach) and friends like Chug (Brad Garrett) and Dotty (Teri Hatcher), so that’s the important thing, right? With a little luck, Dusty does actually wind up qualifying for the race, where he meets some new friends, but also an enemy in race favorite Ripslinger (Roger Craig Smith), who’ll stop at nothing to win. As you’d expect, what follows is a classic underdog story, one that tries very few new things and has even fewer new ideas to share. If you’ve seen the Cars movies, you’ve more or less seen a wittier version of this flick.

7b517e450ba2dd4fb30e5b8348ae9be508bd61b3The cast lends their voices to the film in a solid but completely unspectacular way. Dane Cook sometimes seems at odds with the material, but he does a decent enough job. Cook has your garden variety Disney hero character to play, so he just plays it, adding nothing but subtracting nothing either. Stacy Keach and Brad Garrett get to play slightly more fun characters, with the former getting an interesting back story and the latter being broad comic relief. Teri Hatcher disguises her voice well, but her character doesn’t add much to things. As for Roger Craig Smith, he’s a very average villain. In terms of the other supporting voices, you have Cedric the Entertainer, Priyanka Chopra, John Cleese, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Anthony Edwards, Gabriel Iglesias, Val Kilmer, and even Sinbad on hand. Still, no one leaves their mark, though at least Keach and Garrett are a little different than the rest of the lot.

Some credit goes to director Klay Hall for making this at least look close to Pixar quality, though story wise that’s very much lacking. Most of the blame there goes to scribe Jeffrey M. Howard, but Hall doesn’t really seem to be in possession of any ideas to boost what Howard brought to the table. Once in a while a vaguely amusing cultural reference will pop up and liven things a bit for a moment, but that’s mostly absent here. By and large, this is mostly just a long race with cartoon characters acting like cartoon characters. That’s not necessarily bad when done in an interesting way, but aside from looking bright and shiny, nothing is particularly lively in an engaging way for an adult (unless you want to try and figure out exactly what kind of relationship that cars and planes have here).

When all is said and done, Planes exists solely for little kids. That’s not exactly a horrible thing, but as a film critic, I certainly want a little more than that, even when watching animated fare. Anyone expecting a potential Best Animated Feature contender here can cross this one off their list in a big way, but if you have children, I’m sure they’ll enjoy what’s here for them. My screening had a fair amount of rugrats on hand and they seemed amused, though not exactly enraptured or anything. Overall, Planes is thoroughly mediocre, but considering its Cars pedigree, perhaps that was to be expected? Anyway, the wait for a top notch animated film in 2013 continues on…

Thoughts? Discuss in the comments!