PLANES IS MORE than Disney's craven attempt at a Cars knockoff—another underdog tale about another anthropomorphic vehicle caught up in the easy-to-simplify, winners-and-losers world of "racing."
Did you know it's also the finest Dane Cook film ever made?
In a courageous, star-making turn, the reliably hilarious Cook exudes profound depth and heart when voicing Dusty Crophopper, a shit-stinking crop-duster plane who yearns to break free from the caste of his construction (because, like Frank Zappa sang, "you are what you is") and win glory as a world-famous racing plane who tangles with the best in a voyage around the globe.
Strategically deployed caricatures of foreign nationals and charming small-town denizens (played by other famous Hollywood actors and actresses! Like Stacy Keach! And Sinbad! And Teri Hatcher!) help brighten what is, at times, an emotionally intense arc: Dusty's character-building struggles against a regimented society and the capricious hand of a literal maker we never see and who might not exist at all.
After a while, all the propellers going 'round and 'round stand for what they are: a clear symbol of samsara—the Hindu concept of rebirth so obviously central to the hardship Dusty must endure as he soulfully ponders a world in which personal evolution is attainable even if fundamental change isn't. (Speaking of "castes," Dusty even falls in love with an Indian plane!)
Planes, like any serious film, also nods to its forebears. Rally race scenes are clearly a nod to the timeless Hanna-Barbera classic Wacky Races. I'd also be remiss if I didn't highlight a particularly daring Grand Canyon sequence paying reverent homage to Star Wars: Episode I—The Phantom Menace.
To think that this gem once was headed straight to video! For shame! Imagine me leaping to my feet and tearfully clapping when I say it ought to proudly fly straight to somewhere else: the Academy Awards!