It's silly to object that Disney's new "Planes" is a copy of "Cars"; the film acknowledges this at every turn.
It's similarly pointless to remark that the movie isn't as good as its forbear; animated films don't get much better than "Cars."
I'd like to note instead that "Planes" pretty much does its job - pleasing the hordes of kids who loved "Cars" while providing just enough sizzle to keep parents from wishing they were elsewhere.
The above publicity image released by Disney Enterprises, Inc. shows Dusty, voiced by Dane Cook, in a scene from the animated film “Planes.”
In a summer of lumbering, overhyped spectacles, I personally found it relaxing to watch a film of modest aspirations - one that wasn't too long, too expensive or too disappointing.
And it's not really that much like "Cars" anyway.
While I could list a dozen clear distinctions - including a very different sort of protagonist - let's begin by observing that the plot is much leaner, and about 25 minutes shorter.
It concerns a lowly crop-dusting airplane who qualifies for a round-the-world race, competing against a winsome, multi-ethnic host of hot-shots (note that McQueen, in "Cars," wasn't exactly an underdog).
"Cars" threw in everything but the kitchen sink, including a massive big-name cast. "Planes" scales back, even choosing lesser-knowns for a few key roles. Dane Cook has the lead, with help from Julia-Louis Dreyfus, John Cleese, Teri Hatcher and Brad Garrett; but I was more impressed by Stacy Keach's fine work as an aging Corsair who coaches Dusty (OK, there's one "Cars" rip-off) - and especially by Carlos Alazraqui as a flamboyant, love-lorn Mexican Gee Bee R-1.
Look it up. Like many planes here, this vintage classic - with its barrel-like nose and cockpit tucked way back against the tail - is a real beauty; and the film-makers seem to have done their homework. The credits thank the Department of Defense, the USS Vinson, the Navy, the Blue Angels and the Thunderbirds, among many others.
The film looks good - bright and colorful, with solid art direction - and plenty of tailfins show up in the landscape, recalling the mountainous grilles and hoods from "Cars."
Granted, the laughs feel a bit strained - the movie isn't very funny, and several lines are downright lame; but the swift, exciting races are all just the right length - and the brief scene of Dusty's peril at sea is scary and suspenseful.
The little plane's many acts of kindness are later rewarded when his fellow-racers begin rooting for him against a villainous three-time winner; the film also offers some romance, a modest surprise or two, and heartfelt redemption for one dishonest character.
Originally designed as part of a straight-to-video trilogy, "Planes" performed solidly in theaters over the weekend and will be followed by two sequels. Anyone for "Trains"?