A rookie racer with big ambitions, an unscrupulous opponent who will sink to any depths of unsporting behaviour to secure victory, a cast of international characters with funny accents and a couple of comic sidekicks… Hmmm, there's something decidedly familiar about the plot of the new Disney's Planes movie. But, then again, as it comes from the Cars dynasty, perhaps it's no surprise that this movie follows the tried-and-tested format of the previous movies that made megastars of Lightning McQueen, Mater et all.
Don't miss... sneaking a peek at the thrilling Planes film trailer
This time, our central hero is Dusty: a lowly cropduster who dreams of winning a round-the-world race. Unfortunately, he has two handicaps. Firstly, he's a low-flying, modest-engined cropduster. And secondly, he's afraid of heights, setting up the perfect 'dig deep, overcome your fears, triumph-over-adversity' scenario.
So, why the brand extension? Alongside huge box-office sales, the Cars franchise brings in more than $2 billion in global retail sales annually, making it one of Disney's biggest franchises: therein lies the business sense of the movie – and its associated raft of Planes toys in time for Christmas, yikes – but does it cut it as entertainment? Ask any eight-year-old boy and the chances are, yes. Ask his parent, who may have already been subjected to many repeat viewings of Cars and Cars 2, and the answer may be somewhat more ambivilant. Of course, it's Disney, so you can expect the animation to be slick, and there are some spectacular flight sequences with twists, turns and 360 degree somersaults that almost make you feel dizzy in 3D, but the characterisation is derivative and the plot predictable. There's a modicom of light comedy, with voice talent from Teri Hatcher as Dotty, the feisty mechanic (hurrah, a girl who's a hotshot with a spanner) and John Cleese as the stiff-upper-lip Brit Bulldog (those ethnic stereotypes are alive and kicking) but the humour is not as slick as its summer competition, Monsters University (which does maintain its Pixar links) or the laugh-out loud Despicable Me 2. Having said that, its target audience will willingly lap it all up and parents can't help themselves reaching for their wallet to purchase the accompanying 'collectibles'. Be warned: Planes 2 is already in the pipeline.
Disney Planes is in cinemas from August 15.