It's a storyline we've often heard before: talented underdog dreams of the big time but has to beat overwhelming odds to bag the top prize and deal with nasty competition along the way. That formula applies to any number of live action (Rocky and The Karate Kid come to mind) and animated movies from the past but Disney Studios - which knows a thing or two about animation - dusts off the playbook and digs into the well once again for Planes, a story about - well, you know.
Coming at the tail-end of a summer season in which the usual crop of animated features competed for the box-office dollar - a competition handily won by Despicable Me 2 - Planes is a quietly capable contender but not in the same league as this year's big boys. It's charming, predictable and good for a few chuckles but doesn't make much of an impact beyond that.
Dusty (Dane Cook) is a spunky small-town crop-duster with high hopes of taking part in Wings Across the World, a round-the-world race that requires the right stuff: speed, endurance and a healthy dose of self-belief. With support from pals Chug (Brad Garrett) and Dottie (Teri Hatcher), a fuel truck and a fork lift respectively, Dusty tries out for the local qualifiers and comes up just short - but then a spot in the main competition opens up.
There are just a couple of problems. Dusty is good for seed, not speed so he needs someone to give him pointers and - because he's spent his whole life as a low-level flier - he's afraid of heights. For a coach, he counts on Skipper (Stacy Keach) a World War II-vintage fighter plane with a secret of his own, but who knows about the sweet science of aerial application.
Dusty's competition includes a stiff-upper-lip Brit (John Cleese), an amorous Mexican (Carlos Alazraqui) and an alluring Indian (Priyanka Chopra) aero as a romantic interest, but his main rival and villain of the piece is Ripslinger (Roger Craig Smith), a superfast racer with no scruples.
Planes pays tribute of sorts to Top Gun (with Anthony Edwards and Val Kilmer in minor roles) but this being a children's movie there are no dogfights and nothing more sinister than a blown engine part. The film, directed by Klay Hall, glides along and does only what is necessary to make the grade. A sequel is already in the works but unlike Cars, its high-revving Pixar cousin, Planes fails to reach the heights.
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