Dusty Crophopper (voiced by Dane Cook) is a crop-duster who dreams of being a racer in the Wings Around the Globe, an international flying race. In his qualifier he finishes sixth, but after a disqualification, he slots into 5th and qualifies for the race. This earns him the ire of the current champion Ripslinger, who scoffs at the notion of a crop-duster entering such a race. But this only makes Dusty more determined to win. Stacy Keach voices Skipper, a supposed war veteran who reluctantly coaches Dusty towards victory, Teri Hatcher voices the supportive mechanic Dottie, Priyanka Chopra is the voice of Indian plane Ishani (whom Dusty is sweet on) John Cleese voices the pompous but loyal British plane Bulldog, Carlos Alazraqui is the voice of Dusty’s fellow competitor and friend El Chupacabra, and Jessica Marais (!) voices the Aussie object of El Chupacabra’s affections, with the not very Aussie name of Rochelle (Does she fly from Milan to Minsk?).
I didn’t much like Pixar’s “Cars”, but Disney (who now own Pixar) manage to trump that film significantly with this 2013 follow-up from director Klay Hall (a supervising director on the redneck “King of the Hill” animated TV comedy series). A lot of the credit must go to screenwriter Jeffrey Howard (who has worked on several direct-to-DVD animated films) who at the very least doesn’t pilfer the plot from “Doc Hollywood” for this film, and keeps it really simple. Set in the same universe as “Cars”, it’s basically just a car racing film, but with planes instead. The plot is barely more than that, and while nothing original, you can’t really call it a rip-off of anything in particular (some have suggested the same year’s “Turbo”, but that film was insulting and best forgotten). I do wish, though, that the film didn’t have the exact same animation style as “Cars”, it makes one feel that billing it as being from the same world is a cheating way for animators to not put much imagination into the film’s look. Having said that, the animation in “Cars” was by far the best thing in that film, and this film still looks great. There’s some really stunning, textured scenery throughout, and it’s certainly a very colourful film. You can see that the film is a slight upgrade in quality of the animation from “Cars”, particularly with the beautiful backgrounds.
The voice cast is a mixed bag, to be honest. Dane Cook makes for a rather boring protagonist, actually. However, Teri Hatcher was so youthful-sounding and unrecognisable that I thought throughout that it was Amy Adams. Her voice is surprisingly sweet, I only wish the character had more screen time. Less interesting is the nondescript work of Aussie Jessica Marais (in a role voiced by Julia Louis-Dreyfus in the US version, which un-patriotic or not, I would’ve preferred here), whilst I actually didn’t pick up on the gag voice cameos by Val Kilmer and Anthony Edwards. The best work, however, is done by veterans Stacy Keach (doing an excellent impersonation of Chris Cooper doing an R. Lee Ermey impersonation, it sounds like), and the inimitable John Cleese, as well as the relatively unknown Carlos Alazraqui. Alazraqui’s El Chupacabra is hilarious, and the plane itself is just so cute! I also have to mention the brilliant gag cameo of a voiceover person at JFK airport. Yes, it sounds like you-know-who. Funny stuff.
This is nothing new, but it’s superior to “Cars”, despite the fact that planes racing around plays much slower on screen than cars. It’s a fairly minor film, but focussing pretty much solely on the race aspect allows it to at least escape ripping off any Michael J. Fox films. For that, I was thankful. It’s cute, easy to watch, and damn good-looking to boot. Howard’s screenplay is based on a story by him, the director, and John Lasseter (the director of “Cars” and “Toy Story”).