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Planes Movie Review

Planes: Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy combo pack cover art
Planes is now available on home video. Read our review of the Blu-ray + DVD combo.

Disney's Planes (2013) movie poster Planes

Theatrical Release: August 9, 2013 / Running Time: 92 Minutes / Rating: PG

Director: Klay Hall / Writers: Jeffrey M. Howard (original story & screenplay); John Lasseter, Klay Hall (original story)

Voice Cast: Dane Cook (Dusty Crophopper), Stacy Keach (Skipper Riley), Brad Garrett (Chug), Teri Hatcher (Dottie), Julia Louis-Dreyfus (Rochelle), Priyanka Chopra (Ishani), John Cleese (Bulldog), Cedric the Entertainer (Leadbottom), Carlos Alazraqui (El Chupacabra), Roger Craig Smith (Ripslinger), Anthony Edwards (Echo), Val Kilmer (Bravo), Sinbad (Roper), Gabriel Iglesias (Ned, Zed), Brent Musburger (Brent Mustangburger), Colin Cowherd (Colin Cowling), Danny Mann (Sparky), Oliver Kalkofe (Franz/Fliegenhozen), John Ratzenberger (Harland)

Preorder Planes from Amazon.com: Blu-ray 3D + Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy • Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy

The tagline "From Above the World of Cars" suggests that Planes is Pixar Animation Studios' second film this summer and adds to their newfound appreciation for franchises. In reality, Planes hails from DisneyToon Studios,
the makers of Disney's many CG-animated Tinker Bell movies and hand-drawn sequels before them. Like those, this was intended to go straight to video and was even advertised as such until right before last Christmas, when the studio penciled in an August theatrical release.

August isn't a month when animation thrives in theaters. Disney opened the UK import Valiant then in 2005, back when a future without Pixar was a genuine possibility, and it floundered, opening in 8th place and grossing less than $20 million domestically in just 2,000 theaters. In 2009, the studio released Hayao Miyazaki's Ponyo with a moderate push and it earned just $15.1 M from 900 theaters. Planes has its sights set higher. With much of the public probably mistakenly believing this to be a Pixar effort, this low-budget film is getting a 3D release as part of its substantial 3,400-total theater count.

Friends encourage Dusty Crophopper to follow his air racing dreams in Disney's "Planes."

Planes tells the story of Dusty Crophopper (voiced by Dane Cook), a Lincoln, Nebraska crop duster who holds improbable dreams of being an air racer. To a mix of encouragement and disbelief, Dusty registers for Wings Around the Globe, the biggest international competition out there. Though he turns a number of a heads, Dusty narrowly misses qualifying for the main event. Dejected, he returns home to learn that a racer ahead of him has been disqualified on a technicality, giving Dusty a chance to vie for his dream.

Coached by Skipper (Stacey Keach), a war hero who's now flightless, Dusty tries to compete with engines built for speed, all the while harboring a fear of heights. The competition sends racers from one major metropolis to another, giving hopefuls a variety of weather conditions and geography to navigate in search of the title. Balancing out the derision doled out by those he looks up to, including the cocky defending champion Ripslinger (Roger Craig Smith) and the condescending Brit Bulldog (John Cleese), Dusty receives support from his friends back home, including his mechanic Dottie (Teri Hatcher) and his enthusiastic best friend Chug (Brad Garrett).

Truck Chug and mechanic Dottie are two of Dusty's biggest supporters and best friends.

It is depressing for Pixar to be associated, even mistakenly, with Planes. No one else has come close to contributing as much gold to the world of cinema over the past twenty years. Their quickly developed legacy has undoubtedly been a factor in some of the backlash they've earned for merely good recent films like Brave and Monsters University that other animation houses would be delighted to have made.
But even those who leap to the studio's defense struggle to say something nice about Cars 2. Planes feels very much like an extension of that sequel, the studio's biggest misfire to date: unnecessary brand dilution performed purely for commercial reasons.

While I must reiterate that Planes is not a Pixar film, that is not something being clearly conveyed in the marketing. Furthermore, this spin-off franchise could not have occurred without the blessing and support of Pixar and Disney Animation chief creative officer John Lasseter, a director of both Cars films who gets story and executive producer credits here. As responsible for Pixar's earliest feature triumphs as anyone, Lasseter has evolved into something of a figurehead lately, whose most prominent expression of personal creativity has been the increasingly questionable Cars universe.

In a world where Cars 2 does not exist, Planes might not be the lightning rod for cynicism that it is. But this is not that world and Planes deserves an onslaught of criticism for committing many of the same errors to an even greater degree. Planes' story closely resembles Cars 2 minus Mater's "wrong man" espionage plot. While that central storyline came out of nowhere and fell flat, globe-trotting races aren't any more compelling in the foreground. Once again, Pixar is very shrewdly pandering to foreign markets. That design paid off on Cars 2 and on DreamWorks' Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted, each of which made around two-thirds of their money overseas. Are moviegoers outside the US desperate enough for validation that it will work again? Planes makes conscious efforts to incorporate locations like India, Nepal, and Germany in addition to tossing bones to flyover country, New York City, and the U.S. Navy.

As usual, the all-vehicle universe crumbles when given the slightest bit of thought (e.g. how and why do cars and planes build a New York City just like ours?), but we're long past questioning that logic. Easier to question is Planes' brand of storytelling, which is to introduce as many characters of as many nationalities as possible. Could it have anything to do with the fact that Cars has been a global merchandising phenomenon, generating over $10 billion in retail sales in the first five years after the original film's release? So few characters here do anything to advance the story, and yet there are twenty given names, distinct appearances, and inevitably multiple toy likenesses. It'd be one thing if the majority of these did not feel like mild retoolings of Cars personalities: the cranky old sage with a secret past, the cocky corporate-sponsored rival, and the enthusiastic sidekick truck supply a clear-cut case of déjà vu.

Amusingly, they are all voiced by actors who largely range from "affordable" to "desperate" and would rarely if ever appear high on a Pixar dream cast wish list. Dane Cook, seemingly the most widely reviled individual in stand-up comedy and whose film acting career seemingly ended in 2008 even more abruptly than it began in 2005, handles leading man duties without anything resembling a joke. Cook replaced Jon Cryer, who curiously bowed out late last year but ends up with an "additional story material" credit. A few Pixar alums return, including Garrett and Julia Louis-Dreyfus as French-Canadian love interest Rochelle. Sportscaster Brent Musburger reprises his Cars alter ego Brent Mustangburger and John Ratzenberger makes his obligatory cameo, either not knowing or caring that this isn't in the Pixar canon. Most of the voice actors are the entertainers you'd expect to be advertised on a low-budget or imported cartoon not really knowing the marketplace, though the casting of Val Kilmer and Anthony Edwards in the minor roles of Super Hornets is a nice little Top Gun homage.

Dusty Cloudhopper braves the rain in Wings Around the Globe.

Cast credibility isn't the only area where we're reminded of this production's inferior nature. Where Cars would plug in covers from the likes of Rascal Flatts and Sheryl Crow, Planes prominently features original numbers by no-name artists. For instance, Alvin and the Chipmunks contributors Chris Classic and Alana D provide their answer to Jay-Z and Alicia Keys' "Empire State of Mind" in a rap accompanying New York City fly-over (complete with a vehicular Statue of Liberty). The soundtrack's highlight and perhaps the film's closest brush with creativity is a slowed-down, mariachi version of The Miracles' 1970s disco classic "Love Machine", performed by the film's prominent offering to Mexico, the lucha-masked and caped El Chupacabra (Carlos Alazraqui).

The one redeeming feature of Cars 2 was its animation. Even though they have revealed that they are capable of a phoned-in script, Pixar simply cannot resist producing stunning visuals that are always a step or two ahead of the ever-improving competition. DisneyToon Studios extends no such artistry and in truth, the long end credits suggest most of the work has been done by India's Prana Studios.
The animation is good enough to be exhibited theatrically (something that couldn't be said of movies that began direct-to-video twenty years ago) and good enough to best the cheaper preschool television alternatives, but not good enough to ever wow. Another commercial requisite, the 3D conversion adds nothing to the film and probably will even discourage some families from shelling out the premium ticket prices they're asked to. Overseas audiences seem a lot more receptive to the format.

Was there any reason to believe that Klay Hall, the director of Tinker Bell and the Lost Treasure, and Jeffrey M. Howard, the writer of the first two Tinker Bell movies and the TV special Pixie Hollow Games, would deliver something meaningful and uplifting in Planes? No. But it is worth remembering and perhaps lamenting that the last time a John Lasseter movie began as a direct-to-video production and wound up getting upgraded to theatrical release was Toy Story 2.

Planes drew widespread disinterest from the many youths at my filled up advance screening. Its completely unwarranted PG rating seems at odds with the "one for the kiddies" thinking that could get families to attend this. It will be interesting to see how well Planes can do with a loose tie to a diminished brand and what is certain to be overwhelming critical disapproval. While Cars 2's $191 million haul is probably the absolute best-case scenario for this release, a much smaller domestic total is probably in the cards for this spin-off. I suspect small like the presently-underperforming Turbo and The Smurfs 2 and not super small like The Wild or Mars Needs Moms. Disney's marketing muscle seems too mighty for this to completely fail, especially when the end credits promote Planes: Fire & Rescue, a sequel already slated for July 18, 2014 theatrical release. That confidence suggests that Disney has already done the market research and figured out they'll make more from a summer theatrical release followed by a holiday season DVD than going the straight-to-video route and securing remorseful sales that theatrical showings will discourage.

If nothing else, Planes will add one additional qualifying theatrical release for the Oscars' Best Animated Feature category, which requires at least sixteen eligible releases in a year to support a field of five nominees. While Planes itself has no shot of competing for that award, its existence could help Disney to claim slots for both this year's in-house cartoon (Frozen) and Pixar's Monsters University. In recent years, Disney has submitted the Tinker Bell movies (which they've given exclusive El Capitan engagements) for that very reason. So, there's that.

Preorder Planes from Amazon.com:
Blu-ray 3D + Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy / Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy

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Related Reviews:
Planes • Cars • Cars 2 • Buzz Lightyear of Star Command: The Adventure Begins • Monsters University • Escape from Planet Earth
Tinker Bell • Tinker Bell and the Lost Treasure • Tinker Bell and the Great Fairy Rescue • Secret of the Wings
Airplane! • Top Gun • Planes, Trains & Automobiles • Flight • The Last Flight of Noah's Ark • Flightplan • Lt. Robin Crusoe, U.S.N.
The Wild • Valiant • Ponyo • The Tigger Movie • Gnomeo & Juliet • Mars Needs Moms • Wreck-It Ralph

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Reviewed August 9, 2013.



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