Flying Right to the Heart: Talking Behind the Scenes with PLANES Star Dane Cook


By Rachel Cantrell, Contributing Writer

PLANES is a heartfelt movie about a plane named Dusty Crophopper, a crop duster who has to overcome his fear of heights to achieve his dreams of being a racer. It’s filled with wonderful voice talent, breathtaking animation and an impressive score.

Popular comedian Dane Cook voices Dusty. MOVIEGUIDE® had the opportunity to hear from Dane about his experience with PLANES. He shared about his childhood fears, what it was like doing voice work for the first time and what he would like children to walk away with after seeing Disney’s PLANES.

Q:  We were told this was a different sort of recording session for you because the film had been shot, and you were matching [your voice to the already made movie]?  

Dane:  Yes. . . I was like “this is great because now I get to be watching the actual film in front of me instead of alone in a booth by myself [where] you don’t even really know what the animation is going to look like, you don’t know what the score is going to sound like, or what that tidal wave is going to look like.” I was actually in a theatre in a huge screening room, and I was watching the movie. I could be in those moments with the character. I had all the other actors’ voices in my head so [recording this way] didn’t bound me because I felt like I could find those pivotal moments within the finished movie. I loved it. I thought it was really wonderful.

Q:  There’s a lot of technical jargon in it for a children’s movie. Did you feel like you had to figure out what these things were before you said them?

Dane:  I did. I asked a lot of questions. I know that John Lasseter is an aviation enthusiast, and he’s done this with all his films because he wants everything to be the actual science. If a kid is really interested and wanting to have a career in aviation, he’s actually learning [something]. . . not only just fringe things in here. . . about the pulp of an engine and it’s the actual engine, the actual parts and pieces. I felt like I got schooled. I learned a lot just being in there.

Q:  So, you feel smarter now?

Dane:  I feel slightly smarter. I don’t know if I could rebuild an airplane engine, but yeah I know a little bit about rotors and ribbets.

Q:  Could you relate to your character at all? That determination to make it? That’s kind of like your career.

Dane:  Very much so. I was a very introverted kid. I was not like a silly kid or outgoing in that quite frankly I suffered from quite a bit of anxiety. I used to have panic attacks when I was a teenager really. . . incapacitating moments because I had some phobias. I had a fear of being in front of people. My mother when she was pregnant with me was very phobic. She was pregnant with me and a very phobic person. I was born into phobia basically. So, I had to learn to unknot some of the things that I sort of picked up being inside my mom. In the way, I related it to Dusty, there was a period in my life where I had to really realize, if I want to entertain the world (which I did), I’m 11-12 years old going “I would like to be a comedian, and I would like to entertain; I would like to do plays and sing and dance,” but I can barely go on my front porch. I had to fight through [that]. When this project came along, and I started to read [the script], I got very emotional for two reasons. One’s kind of silly. One is that it just immediately struck me because I remember feeling this feeling in my life of not having any belief in myself, of being very self-deprecating, and not very healthy to myself. That hit me when I was reading [the script], and I [said to myself] “Ugh I know that feeling.” I can put my whole self into this. [Second], the fact that his name was Dusty Crophopper and DC was Dane Cook, I was like symbolically this is supposed to be mine. It really lit me up. It really made me feel like every scene in this movie, every little bit of desperation that you hear, is me digging down and finding that feeling of hopelessness that I felt. I used to feel hopelessness in my life and it’s all in this performance.

Q:  So what do you want children to walk away with from this movie? 

Dane:  Well, you know I work with a lot of kids. I do a lot of work for the past 15 years with Comedy Camp where I work with a lot of kids. Sometimes I go through Boston Children’s Hospital. I always, because of what I experienced as a kid, want kids to have that epiphany moment, that little jolt, that little spark that they see when Dusty flies higher than he has before, that scene where he flies straight up. . . and finally it comes together. I think for a kid who doesn’t know about anything technical or how a movie’s made, they are just going to see this, hear this beautiful score and see this dynamic fantastical thing happening in front of them. Subconsciously or subliminally, that’s a message of “You can experience something of your own. You can break out of that shell.” 

I work with kids every summer at this camp that sit with me and tell me they feel hopeless. They feel like they have nothing. These are kids that have been through abuse, these are kids that are in foster programs where I work. They detest themselves, and I’m there to say, “Listen, I’m here because I get that.” My voice resonates with them because it’s the truth that’s coming from me, and kids sense that. They can tell the real deal. So, I think if my voice can resonate that way with kids. Maybe it will resonate through this film as well. They’ll hear that little something that I’m giving to that performance that says to them “I want to try.”

That’s what these movies have always done. They’ve done it for me. They do it for so many families. Hope. Gives you hope for a little bit. A little bit of hope can seep into everything, so two hours of hope in a movie can absolutely change your life. It did [for me]. I saw E.T. I loved that movie. I was never the same after that. My family, we suffered a lot of hardship, there were a lot of dark moments growing up, but my mom took me to see E.T., and we sat on the movie theatre stairs right after because I was so excited to talk about it. We left the theatre, sat right on the stairs, and it’s an emotional thing to even talk about because in talking to my mother there I know that our connection and what she gave to me through explaining to me what we just saw, it made me want to someday create something that would entertain the world. I said, “What is this? Where will this go? Who made this?” She said, “Well, his name is Steven Spielberg.” I said, “I want to do something that moves the world.”

Q:  From all the characters in PLANES, which one do you think was most influential for Dusty?

Dane:  Everybody [is] different. You’ve got Chug, who’s kind of his sidekick. He pals around with [him]. He’s kind of the one who goofs off with him. Then, you’ve got Dottie, who really is going to tell him what his limits are. Not everyone always wants to hear what those are. You’ve got El Chu, and he’s the wild child. That’s his family. There’s no lead dog here. It’s not just Dusty, it’s all of them. It’s all of us together. It may be Dusty’s journey, but it’s really about the gang coming together and they all win because of it. That’s the cool thing. They all get to feel an experience in their life [that] “because he won, and because I stuck by him, and I was a champion of his, my life’s better.” I think that’s a message that the world needs, that kids need to see. It’s a group effort. . .. We always need other people to get to where we need to be. 

Q:  You’re now the voice of a plane. Are you a good flyer?

Dane:  I flew a tiny, tiny bit. I did some shows in Iraq several years ago for our troops, and they took me up in a C130 and brought me into the cockpit, and they let me put my hands on [the controls], and then he let go, and, for like three seconds, it was like “Wow!” I’ll go back on stage, I’ll stick to that, I’ll stick to a microphone.

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