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'Planes' takes off where 'Cars' left off

| Wednesday, March 27, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

As “Planes” prepares to soar on-screen this summer, the flight crew grows more and more impressive. Among the just-announced cast of voice actors whose characters will fill the sky Aug. 9 in the DisneyToon Studios animated adventure — a spinoff of Pixar's “Cars” franchise — are a couple of “Top Gun” alums and acting vets Julia Louis-Dreyfus, John Cleese and Teri Hatcher.

They join comedian Dane Cook, who was signed to voice the lead role of Dusty after Jon Cryer dropped out because of scheduling conflicts.

“I always felt every vehicle in the world of ‘Cars' is a character, and I love the idea of airplanes because you get off the ground and can take people places they have never seen,” says John Lasseter, who directed “Cars” and “Cars 2” and is executive producer on “Planes.” “There's so much potential.”

The film originally was slated to be made for the straight-to-DVD market. But it became clear that the project held box-office promise and that a theater-size canvas was needed for the 3-D production.

“I think we got into this world and really saw how epic it could be,” director Klay Hall says. “It kind of just happened. It's worked out best for everyone.”

Cook's Dusty is a single-propeller crop-dusting plane who dreams about the world beyond his town of Propwash Junction. Despite clear physical limitations and a nagging fear of heights, Dusty enlists in the Wings Around the Globe rally to compete against the world's greatest flying machines.

The premise allows the filmmakers to show off exotic global locales — Iceland, Germany, India, Mexico.

“Planes” also features military might, notably the reunion of “Top Gun's” Val Kilmer and Anthony Edwards voicing the F-18 fighter jets Bravo and Echo, who come to Dusty's rescue over the Pacific.

“I thought, ‘Why don't we just go for getting Iceman and Goose (the actors' ‘Top Gun' characters)?' and they were totally up for it,” Hall says.

Besides the F-18s, Dusty has support from his best friend, fuel truck Chug (Brad Garrett), forklift Dottie (Hatcher), and his reclusive mentor, Skipper Riley (Stacy Keach), a World War II-era Corsair.

The race competition features an array of aerial talent: Louis-Dreyfus voices the French-Canadian racer Rochelle, and Cleese is Bulldog, an old-school Royal Air Force-type in a De Havilland 88 Comet aircraft. Ripslinger (Roger Craig Smith), a custom-built carbon-fiber plane and three-time World Rally champion, represents Dusty's screen nemesis.

The blimp Colin Cowling (voiced by Colin Cowherd of ESPN Radio) “did ask me that, out of all the cool characters in this movie, why did I have to make him a blimp?” Hall says. “I told him, ‘You have got the best view of anybody in the house, and you look really good as a blimp.' ”

Bryan Alexander is a staff writer for USA Today.

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