Disney Takes to the Air

A chat with the director of Planes

Dusty rides again. A scene from Planes.(Disney)

Opening in theaters in August, Disney’s Planes is an animated feature about a crop duster named Dusty who dreams of competing as an air racer. Director Klay Hall, twice nominated for an Emmy® for the animated television series “King of the Hill,” calls himself “a lifelong aviation enthusiast.” In the course of researching for the film, Hall attended the National Championship Air Races at Reno for several years to understand the heart and personalities of air racing. He spoke with Air & Space Editor Linda Shiner.

What was it about air racing that made you believe an animated movie could be made about it?

Hall: I know racing’s been done, but racing’s never been done in the air, and certainly not in animation, so that’s what got me out to Reno, to really get out there and talk to the Steven Hintons and several of the other racers and get out there in the pits with those guys and hear those planes start up. You know, John Lasseter [chief creative officer of Walt Disney Animation Studios] believes you should gain as much research material as you possibly can. You need to get out there and walk the walk and talk the talk with these guys.

But your star doesn’t look much like a raceplane. He looks like an Air Tractor.

Yeah. There are three different types, actually. Air Tractor is one of the three.

I knew I always wanted to tell a classic underdog story, and we sort of ended up picking the crop duster, sort of this humble beginning, and we wanted our character to be someone who needed to step out of his comfort zone to be able to see what he could possibly achieve. So it was embracing those two universal ideas of classic underdog story and you're built or you're made for something, but you can possibly do more.

Another of your characters is among the most beloved aircraft in the world: the F4U Corsair. Was that one of your favorites to draw when you were a kid?

I think it was the first one that I could draw actually, fairly well, to tell you the truth. It's that gull wing shape; it's a beautiful airplane. It also lends a touch of history. I knew that I wanted to bring in the Jolly Rogers [VF-17, “the fighting 17, the U.S. Navy squadron with more aces (15) than any other unit in the Pacific]. In our world, we plane-ify everything, so it’s the Jolly Wrenches. We have a piston and crossed wrenches instead of the skull and crossbones.

I knew that that squadron started with F4U Corsairs in World War II. Today they fly F-18s, and that’s another part of our story, so it worked out really well to bring in that Corsair.

Your dad was a naval aviator. What airplane did he fly?

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