Should I Watch..? 'Planes' (2013)
What's the big deal?
Planes is an animated family comedy film released in 2013 and is a spin-off of Pixar's 2006 movie Cars. Originally planned as the first part of a trilogy, the film was produced by Disney Toon Studios instead of Pixar although the director of Cars - John Lasseter - was also involved in this movie's production. Despite efforts to move away from Cars, the movie was still slated by critics upon release who accused it of being little more than a cynical attempt by Disney to produce and sell more merchandise to the under-10s. However, it isn't a complete disaster - the film has quality visuals and if you are a young viewer, ideally under the age of 10, then it has enough bright colours and goofy voices to distract you from annoying your parents.
What's it about?
In a world populated by sentient aeroplanes (and many other vehicles), a young crop-duster has big ambitions. Dusty Crophopper is desperate to enter the Wings Across The Globe race but both his fear of heights and his scorning boss Leadbottom get the better of him. Only his fuel-truck friend Chug offers any encouragement and together, they practise as well as they can. The day before a qualifying race, Dusty asks veteran Skipper Riley for tips but Skipper declines to help. However, Dusty does just enough to qualify and takes everybody by surprise.
Now entered into the race, Dusty seriously needs to improve his game. With Skipper now on his team, Dusty must face a lonely and perilous journey across the world against a number of vehicles much better suited to such trials than him. Can Dusty overcome the odds and beat the defending champion, Ripslinger or will he go back to tending his crops?
What's to like?
I don't want to be entirely negative so let's look at the positives, starting with the animation. Despite it being a rip-off, Planes is a very easy and pleasant film to watch as it's filled with sweeping vistas, roaring seascapes and picturesque country views. It's gorgeous and much better than some of the characters, who look clumsy by comparison. Watch the trailer if you don't believe me, especially as it uses a musical score to underline the action instead of cartoony voices. Whoever was in charge of animating the backgrounds can pat themselves on a job well done.
The other thing that surprises is the vocal talent. Normally, I'm weary of films that flood the cast with star names at the expense of finding the right tone for the character. But for once, this isn't too bad - Cook as Dusty seems like a nice enough lead but for me, the star is Carlos Alazraqui as Dusty's Mexican buddy El Chupacabra. Donning a luchador mask (obviously, he's Mexican) and serenading his love, he injects the film with a much-needed sense of fun. The film itself is bright enough for young viewers and isn't a slouch in the pacing either so they shouldn't get bored by the end of the film, like you will be.
- Anthony Edwards and Val Kilmer cameo as fighter planes due to their appearance in Top Gun. They even have the same designs and colours that their characters - Goose and Ice Man - had in that film.
- It was initially due to be released straight to video but Disney changed their minds. As a result, it grossed just under $220 million worldwide.
- John Cryer dropped out of playing the lead and was replaced by Dane Cook. However, Cryer does receive a credit on the film for 'additional story material'.
What's not to like?
Planes is so obviously derivative of other CG movies that I'm amazed there hasn't been a lawsuit. How many times have we seen a hero emerge from their own insecurities to save the day, with the help of an older, flawed version of themselves and a love interest? Do Disney honestly think that none of us have seen the likes of Toy Story, Shrek and obviously the aforementioned Cars before? The recipe has not changed that much in CG films since Buzz first met Woody but things have moved on. Kids demand more than simply reheating what worked last time because, trust me, they can tell. Planes does not have an original thought in its head.
However, two things really do leave a nasty taste in the mouth. Both Cars and Planes are guilty of some shocking racial stereotyping instead of giving these characters an actual personality. If a Japanese character were in the film then it would have had a pointy bamboo hat, narrow eyes and mixed their L's and R's up - it's honestly that bad. The other thing is the sheer cynicism of the product - it looks and feels like a Pixar movie and I imagine many people would have high expectations because of that. But Pixar's magic is tragically missing because although Disney have blatantly copied the look and styling of Cars, they've crafted a soulless film that will sell toys and bedspreads but fails completely to entertain anyone but the very youngest of viewers.
Should I watch it?
If you've got young kids then stick it on for them - they'll enjoy the colourful adventures and before you know it, they'll be sticking their arms out and pretending to fly. But for older kids and adults especially, there's little to recommend. It feels like a cheap knock-off of a much better product and while Cars wasn't the greatest Pixar film in the world, it is still considerably better than this watered-down imitation. A pity that Lightning McQueen doesn't strike twice...
Great For: younger viewers, Disney stores
Not So Great For: adults, older children, John Lasseter's reputation
What else should I watch?
Nearly all of Pixar's back catalogue would be better than this: any one of the Toy Story films, The Incredibles, Inside Out or even WALL·E which is not just beautiful to look at but also makes you laugh, cry and think as well. And then there's always Frozen assuming that you aren't sick to death of hearing Let It Go over and over again! Frankly, there are other songs in the film that are just as good.
Like I said, Cars isn't Pixar's strongest film but at least it entertains on some levels. Cars 2, on the other hand, is Pixar's first proper dud - a laughter-free zone that is a pale imitation of the original. Like Planes, it will only entertain the youngest of kids or the dumbest of adults but everyone else should stay away. It doesn't even have that much racing in it.
Dusty Crophopper, crop-duster
Skipper Riley, fighter aircraft
Chug, fuel truck
Ishani, modern Indian racer
Roger Craig Smith
Ripslinger, carbon-fibre racer
Bulldog, 1930's racer
El Chupacabra, Mexican racer
Jeffrey M. Howard *
Release Date (UK)
16th August, 2013
Animated, Family, Comedy
© 2015 Benjamin Cox