There are funnier cartoons than the Cars universe of movies, and smarter ones and animated films with more heart.
But there’s nothing like the “World of Cars” for toy tie-ins, or so the reasoning must have been for Planes, the worst of the animated blockbusters to come our way this summer. A bland, joyless plucky-little-plane race comedy, it’s even more starved of jokes than Pixar’s Monsters University, as if that was possible.
Planes is about a crop duster named Dusty who longs to be more “than just what I was built for. I’ve flown thousands of miles and I’ve never been anywhere.”
His elders (Cedric the Entertainer) might remind him that “You were built for seed, not speed.” But Dusty longs to escape Propwash Junction, and with the help of his fuel truck pal (Brad Garrett) and trusty mechanic forklift (Teri Hatcher), he might just get into the round-the-world race and win fame and glory.
So it’s Cars II with planes. Or Turbo without the snail.
They cast salty comic Dane Cook as the voice of Dusty, and gave him nothing funny to say. Garrett, Hatcher, Stacy Keach (playing a grizzled World War II F4U Corsair), funnymen John Cleese and Cedric the Entertainer, funny woman Julia Louis-Dreyfus (as a French-Canadian race plane), all great voices playing trucks or planes, none of them with anything amusing to work with.
A few national stereotypes — stuck-up Brit, Latin Lover — don’t deliver laughs, either.
Like Cars, this was based on an idea from studio head John Lasseter, who apparently is surrounded by “Yes” men and women. Nobody was there to tell him that wonderfully detailed animated airplanes — “Skipper,” the Corsair, remembers his combat days in a vivid recreation of World War II at one point — do not a movie make. A perfect 1930s Gee Bee racer replica isn’t funny, even when it’s given a Mexican accent.
Casting two actors from Top Gun to voice Navy jets? Giving sports announcers Brett Musberger and Colin Cowherd (as a blimp) race coverage announcing jobs? Real side splitters.
Planes looks, sounds, and feels like a direct-to-video project, which in an earlier age when people still bought DVDs it would have been. In theaters, it’s nothing more than a laughless, 90-minute commercial for toys available at a retailer near you.