The Planes Series
Planes (July 20/14)
Set within the "world of Cars," Planes follows affable crop-dusting airplane Dusty Crophopper (Dane Cook) as he sets out to compete in a famous around-the-world aerial race - with the character receiving assistance from a wide variety of quirky figures, including Brad Garrett's goofy Chug and Stacy Keach's grizzled Skipper. It's clear right from the outset that Planes has been unabashedly geared towards a very young audience, as the movie boasts a wide variety of attributes designed to capture and sustain the interest of small children - with, for example, the almost hopelessly generic storyline sure to alienate adults to an increasingly pronounced degree. And although the movie rarely manages to achieve the heights achieved even by 2006's entertaining yet lackluster Cars, Planes is nevertheless a passable animated endeavor that benefits substantially from its stellar visuals and smattering of compelling voice performances - with Cook's amiable turn as the central character matched by a supporting cast that includes Julia Louis-Dreyfus, John Cleese, and, of course, John Ratzenberger. It doesn't hurt, either, that director Klay Hall, working from Jeffrey M. Howard's screenplay, has suffused the proceedings with a smattering of unexpectedly entertaining sequences, with the most obvious example of this an engrossing interlude in which Dusty saves a fellow competitor from a life-threatening crash. The film's raft of positive elements can't quite compensate for a ho-hum narrative that continuously unfolds exactly as expected, and there's little doubt that the third act, as a result, is unable to pack the exciting punch that's clearly been intended - which, in the end, cements Planes' place as a watchable yet entirely forgettable Disney vehicle.
Planes: Fire & Rescue (July 20/14)
Planes: Fire & Rescue offers more of the same as Dusty Crophopper (Dane Cook) embarks on a quest to become a full-fledged firefighter, with the storyline following Dusty's training alongside a grizzled instructor (Ed Harris' Blade Ranger) and, eventually, his efforts at combating a deadly blaze. It's a narrative structure that's almost identical to that of the original's, with scripter Jeffrey M. Howard changing the primary plot thrust from a big race to a big fire but leaving few other elements unchanged - including Dusty's relationship with a mentor who slowly-but-surely comes to respect him. As was the case with the first Planes, Planes: Fire & Rescue, though completely forgettable, boasts a watchable feel that persists from start to finish - with the movie's passable atmosphere heightened by its expectedly first-class animation. (It's worth noting, however, that the 3D here is as needless and distracting as ever.) The big, larger-than-life finale generally fares better than one might've anticipated (ie it's genuinely exciting, for the most part), and Cook and his various costars often inject the proceedings with much-needed bursts of adult humor - and yet it's ultimately clear that Planes: Fire & Rescue is content to operate as an endeavor aimed directly at younger audiences.