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Book Review: The Art of ‘Planes’

Fred Patten talks about the new coffee-table art book featuring Dusty Crophopper and his two ‘Planes’ movie adventures.

'The Art of Planes.' All images courtesy of Chronicle Books.

The Art of Planes, by Tracey Miller-Zarneke.  Preface by John Lasseter.  Forewords by Klay Hall and Bobs Gannaway.

San Francisco, Chronicle Books, July 2014, hardcover $40.00 (176 pages).

Make no mistake: while this book’s title is only The Art of Planes, the second movie of the Planes trilogy – Planes: Fire & Rescue – is given equal space.

Animation fans that collect all of the coffee-table art books about the modern big-budget animation feature-length blockbusters must have wondered about the lack of any book about Disney’s high-profile and very popular Planes.  Here it is at last, combined with full coverage of Planes 2, the officially-named Planes: Fire & Rescue.  The adventures of Dusty Crophopper, the simple cropdusting plane who dreams of becoming first an air-racing plane, and then an aerial firefighter, are fully pictured.

An apparently necessary quibble here: while both Planes animated features were made by “Walt Disney Animation Studios,” they are not from the more famous “Walt Disney Feature Animation.”  They are from the “DisneyToons Studios” division, formed in 1988 to create direct-to-home-video productions; VHS releases at first and DVDs today.  The four Tinker Bell movies starting in 2008 may be the best-known examples.  The two Planes movies are DisneyToons’ first theatrical releases.  Chief Creative Officer John Lasseter makes it clear in his Preface that one of the first decisions that he and Pixar’s Ed Catmull made when they were put in charge of all things Disney was to upgrade DisneyToons from churning out home-video sequels of Disney classic animated films to designing and creating original features.

And so what?  The Art of Planes is a showcase of the two movies’ concept art; the character designs, colorscripts, background art and more that went into both features.  Many of the reviews of Planes and Planes: Fire & Rescue have been condescending because the films were not produced by Walt Disney Feature Animation or by Pixar Animation Studios, the creator of Cars and Cars 2 of which these are obvious spinoffs.  The actual computer graphic production of Planes and its sequel were subcontracted to Prana Studios in Mumbai, India; and if this had not been revealed in the reviews, most audiences would probably have not known they are not Pixar productions.  They are that good.  The production quality aside, the Planes movies have been designed to match the quality of Pixar’s Cars movies, and DisneyToons’ creative artists did not lower their quality from that.

As usual with these animation art books, each picture (mostly digital color art, with a few CG renders of finished character art) is credited to its artist.  Ryan Carlson, Scott Seeto, Lin Hua Zheng, Cristy Maltese, Ed Li, Ritsuko Notani, Akiko Crawford and many others.  Several of the writers, story artists, designers and others are quoted as to details in the story or individual character development.  “At one point in our story development, there was a big argument between Leadbottom [Dusty’s original cropduster boss] and Skipper [the old World War II fighter plane], with Skipper saying that Dusty should be a racer.  And Leadbottom’s position was that ‘he’s not built for that, you’re going to get him killed out there, having Dusty chase after your dreams.” –Dan Abraham, head of story. (p. 37)  “If you take a close-up of Dusty [the protagonist] and the exact same close-up of Ripslinger [the villain] at any point in our film, you’ll notice that Dusty’s just a little bit closer to you than Ripslinger is, just to help emphasize intimacy and closeness with the main character versus distance and alienation from the bad guy.” –Jason Carter, stereographer (p. 42)  “Dusty’s ultimate destination on his journey to Piston Peak National Park is the Air Attack Base, where he will train to be a firefighter under the guidance of Mayday’s associate, Blade Ranger.  […]  The location of the base was intentionally separated from the park proper so that the firefighters could never be mistaken for stepping into the fire and risking their lives because they themselves are already in danger.  ‘It needed to be clear that there are people who need their help and they are putting themselves in danger to help them,’ explains Fire & Rescue director Bobs Gannaway.” (p. 141)

All things Planes are here: locations like Propwash Junction (Planes’ equivalent of Radiator Springs in Cars) and Piston Peak National Park, the international locales of the Wings Around the Globe rally in the first feature, and the different parts of Piston Peak National Park from the Grand Fusel Lodge luxury hotel to the firefighters’ working Air Attack Base.  The characters are here as well, from Dusty and his returning friends in both features, to the individual supporting casts of each movie.  How many viewers realize that the Racing Sports Network and car newscaster Brent Mustangburger (based on ESPN/ABC sportscaster Brent Musburger, who provides his voice), who broadcasts the WATG air rally in Planes, also appeared in Pixar’s Cars 2?

Neither Planes the movie nor this book explain it, but the Wings Around the Globe around-the-world rally, apparently to determine the fastest airplane, is limited to propeller-powered airplanes only.  There are no jet planes, which would win easily.  Presumably in the world of living vehicles, jets are not allowed in the WATG rally; but this is never specified.

A curiosity: The Art of Planes is full of the word “pitty.”  “Dotty is the expert mechanic in town [Propwash Junction], always the realist and constantly concerned about Dusty’s well-being.  She is part pitty, part airport tug, and very much a challenge when ‘trying to make a utility vehicle look feminine.’” (p. 30)  “Along with his sidekick pitty, who jots down every single word spoken during the federal investigation, Ryker declares Propwash Junction closed for business because its firefighting abilities are outdated and understaffed.”  (p. 107) Pitty does not seem to be in any standard dictionary, but from the context, a pitty is one of the almost-generic small supporting vehicles in the world of both Cars and Planes, such as Lightning McQueen’s pit crew or Guido the forklift in Cars, or some of the minor firefighting vehicles in Planes: Fire & Rescue.

The Art of Planes does not mention that there is supposed to be a third and concluding Planes feature in a year.  Will it have an art book?  But for those who want a visual memento of Dusty Crophopper and Disney’s two Planes animated features right away, don’t let this book escape you.


Fred Patten has been a fan of animation since the first theatrical rerelease of Pinocchio (1945).  He co-founded the first American fan club for Japanese anime in 1977, and was awarded the Comic-Con International's Inkpot Award in 1980 for introducing anime to American fandom.  He began writing about anime for Animation World Magazine since its #5, August 1996.  A major stroke in 2005 sidelined him for several years, but now he is back. He can be reached at (link sends e-mail) (link sends e-mail).