From above the world of Cars (as we’re told in the opening credits) comes Planes, the latest Mouse House animated feature. And while the similarities with the 2006 Pixar film are obvious and plentiful, the one word you never see anywhere here is, in fact, “Pixar”. That fact, along with Planes‘ arrival in the middle of the August movie wasteland, tells you pretty much everything you need to know.

Sure, Planes is pleasant and, at times, an even entertaining diversion, but it never really flies any higher than that. You can’t really fault Disney for changing its mind mid-production and switching it from a direct-to-DVD release to a feature film (especially since parts of it do scream to be seen on the big screen) but overall, Planes is just… there– a mostly bland regurgitation of Cars and, even more so, Cars 2.

The plot is about as routine as they come. Lowly underdog Dusty Crophopper (voiced by Dane Cook) wants to be a racer, so he attempts to qualify and (lo and behold) makes it as a competitor in an around-the-world plane race. He’s got the requisite character flaw (he’s afraid of heights), he’s got a crusty old-time war hero named Skipper (Stacy Keach) to help him train, and he’s even got an oafish but loveable truck named Chug (Brad Garrett) as his sidekick.

There’s plenty of international flavor, too, much of which is of the stereotypical variety. The Mexican plane has a mariachi band, the Indian plane is exotic and attractive (or as attractive as an AeroCanard FG can be, anyway), and there’s even a goofball bit of comic relief in the form of a forklift named Roper, who’s, naturally, voiced by Sinbad.

Pixar honcho John Lasseter is credited as executive producer, and he’s also given story credit here, but I’m not sure if it’s because he just came up with the plots for Cars and Cars 2, or if Planes was actually a separate thought. Let’s just say that screenwriter Jeffrey M. Howard (Tinker Bell) had a pretty easy job.

The voice cast does some fun work, particularly Cook and Keach, and there are also some enjoyable cameos, including Julia Louis-Dreyfus as a Quebecois-speaking racer and Top Gun veterans Anthony Edwards and Val Kilmer as a pair of fighter jets.

The in-flight sequences are also pretty nifty, especially in 3D, and despite its highly derivative story, Planes actually does a better-than-average job at keeping the audience entertained, particularly the younger crowd. It’s hard, though, to think of it as anything more than a cash-grab for Disney, and not just at the theater… as anyone who’s recently visited a toy store can attest.

3/5 stars