Contrary to my initial misgivings, I was completely won over by both Cars and Cars 2 – in fact, I thought they were outstanding examples of the new feature-cartoon.

Disney has here applied the same principle, ie, of giving life to mechanical objects, but the resulting Planes never gets far off the ground (ouch).

Admittedly, as much as anything else, cinemas are little more than child-minding centres during school holidays, as well as (for those who aren’t comforted by PM Berlustony’s banning of climate change) a cool haven away from midday’s melanoma furnace, so it’s been an easy return for the producers (already the $50 million outlay has been nearly doubled).

As in Cars, there is a race involved, with Dusty (Dane Cook) our hero, a cropduster from Nebraska harbouring the crazy ambition of competing with the flasher and faster pros in the annual Wings Around the World event.

The standard setup is good – there is nothing wrong with children being exposed to the principle that self-belief and determination, despite setbacks and detractors, will always be rewarded – but the ensuing rollercoaster adventure is formulaic in the extreme.

The obvious caveat to that criticism, however, is that the film’s target audience doesn’t know what formulaic means and is only beginning to absorb the building blocks of storytelling.

I didn’t see it in 3D, but it is visually beautiful, no surprise there, and mums and dads won’t find any difficulty in sitting through the ninety-odd minutes, but it never quite presses the emotional buttons that Cars did – Dusty is likeable, but he’s not loveable in the way that Owen Wilson’s Lightning McQueen was.

There are some big names doing the voicings – Stacy Keach, Jessica Marais, Brad Garrett and John Cleese among others – but the quality of their input can’t compensate for the fact that the original premise is too unbelievable.

How the Cars movies pulled it off, how they kidded us into embracing that vital suspension of disbelief, remains a mystery, but this offshoot misses the mark.

~ John Campbell


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