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Cook latest of raunchy comic crop to fly clean

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Cook (below) is the toned-down voice behind Dusty the crop duster (above) in the new Disney feature, Planes.

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Cook (below) is the toned-down voice behind Dusty the crop duster (above) in the new Disney feature, Planes.

IF you have ever seen Dane Cook in concert, you will understand there is a substantial divergence between the comedian's raunchy on-stage persona and a benign animated Disney character named Dusty Crophopper.

But if Cook's vocal work as the star of the upcoming Cars spin-off Planes seems like a disconnect, you would do well to remember that kid-oriented culture is filled with such precedents.

George Carlin, the man who gave us the classic comedy bit Seven Words You Can't Say on Television, played the miniature Mr. Conductor on the PBS kids show Shining Time Station. Eddie Murphy, an even raunchier stand-up comic, is still primarily known to kids and teens as the voice of Donkey in the Shrek movies.

Look at the 1992 Disney movie Aladdin, which featured not one but two oft-offensive standup comedians -- Robin Williams and Gilbert Gottfried -- playing nice for the kiddies.

Cook, 41, was especially inspired by Williams when Disney honcho John Lasseter suggested Cook's vocal grit would be perfect for the role of a humble crop-duster who enters a cross-continent race against an array of international racing aircraft in Planes.

"Robin Williams could have content that was really irreverent and out there, but he played the Genie in Aladdin, which will be forever one of the performances that made me want to voice something in animation," Cook says. "He had such great heart but at the same time, it was so wild and fantastical and interesting."

Cook says doing a voice in a Disney movie is, in a way, a part of a career continuum that connects him to his considerable fan base who have stuck with him in his 23-year career in comedy.

"I had received an email some years ago from a fan (when) I had been talking about some pretty tough things that had happened to me on stage (after) I had lost my parents to cancer and I was starting to find ways to find humour in this traumatic situation," he says.

"Somebody wrote me an email four or five years ago that said: 'I felt like you were talking to me in high school, I felt like you were talking to me in college and I feel like you're still talking to me now.'

"And it was really an epiphany moment," Cook says. "I realized I had grown up with a generation of fans, and now that generation has children. And so how can I still communicate with my fans and give them something that they can give to their kids?

"This is exactly, at this point in my life, what I was hoping to be a part of," Cook says.

He could even bring a more mature personal perspective to a story about a crop-duster who defies naysayers and realizes his dream of being a racer. Cook says he is accustomed to hearing from detractors about his limitations.

"I don't take those things as personally. I'm 41. I'm in Act 2 of my personal and professional life," he says.

"Some people don't last very long in this industry so I feel very lucky to still be participating in things like this and have fans that still want to journey with me.

"So I don't fight it too much. If it comes to me, it was meant to be mine," Cook says. "And if it doesn't come to me, I'm not going to be as angry that it's not mine."

randall.king@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 3, 2013 G3

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