“I am more than just a cropduster!” Dusty Crophopper proclaims at the beginning of “Planes,” and it’s hard not to sigh.
In recent years we’ve seen a penguin that wants to dance, a video game villain who wants to be a good guy and, most recently, a snail that wants to be a race car. The children of the world get it. You can be whatever you want if you work really hard and have charming sidekicks.
But after a trying first act, this DisneyToon Studios release finds a nice cruising altitude, embarking on a world tour that yields some pleasant surprises. “Planes” was supposed to debut direct to video, before Disney decided it was deserving of the big screen. (Story idea: A video store cassette that dreams of being a theatrical release!) “Planes” is no “Toy Story 2,” but it was certainly worthy of the promotion.
Dusty (voiced by Dane Cook) is a small-town cropduster who finds a mentor in a relic war plane named Skipper (Stacy Keach) and yearns to compete in a Grand Prix-style race around the world. If that sounds like “Cars” and “Cars 2” — the movie poster tagline also references the connection — know that this film tries to distance itself from its Pixar distant cousins. There’s no Lightning McQueen. No Radiator Springs. Even John Ratzenberger gets to voice a completely new character. Looking at the history of spinoffs as related to their source material, “Planes” feels less like “The Penguins of Madagascar” and more like “Prometheus.”