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Planes: Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy Review

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)

Buy Planes from Amazon.com:
Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy • Blu-ray 3D Combo • DVD + Digital Copy • Instant Video

The tagline "From Above the World of Cars" suggests that Planes is Pixar Animation Studios' second film of 2013 and adds to their newfound appreciation for franchises. In reality, Planes hails from DisneyToon Studios,
the makers of the 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 set its sights higher and delivered too. Though not quite playing the part of the Pixar effort it looked like in wide release and 3D, this film crossed the $90 million mark domestically this weekend and has earned an additional $130 M in foreign markets. Those grosses resemble the ones of DreamWorks' Antz, The Emperor's New Groove, and Open Season, films whose success was somewhat offset by their high costs. While adjusting their earnings for inflation reveals those all sold more tickets than Planes, doing the same for their budgets reveals just how economic Planes is by comparison, with its production budget of just $50 M.

Crop duster turned racer Dusty Crophopper takes in the view of New York City's coast on a night flight in Disney's "Planes."

Planes tells the story of Dusty Crophopper (voiced by Dane Cook), a Propwash Junction 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).

Romantic Mexican plane El Chupacabra woos his love interest with a mariachi band-backed performance of "Love Machine."

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 and unnecessary brand dilution performed purely for commercial reasons.

While I must reiterate that Planes is not a Pixar film, that is not something 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 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, animation filmmakers are 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 this will always work? Planes grossed about half of what Cars 2 did in many regions and at just one-quarter of the cost. It surely can't have hurt the film to make 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 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 Brad 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.

Well, this is awkward. Dusty discovers Indian ally Ishani has actually been doing Ripslinger's bidding. Dusty's supportive friends back in Propwash Junction watch him race on TV.

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 cringeworthy rap accompanying a New York City fly-over (complete with a vehicular Statue of Liberty). The soundtrack's modest 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 launched the direct-to-video industry twenty years ago) and good enough to best the cheaper preschool television alternatives, but not good enough to ever wow.

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.

With a loose tie to a diminished brand, overwhelming critical disapproval, and a completely unwarranted PG rating at odds with the "one for the kiddies" feel, Planes still managed to fly fairly high at the box office. It outperformed the two family films it most closely followed, DreamWorks' Turbo and Sony's The Smurfs 2, an outcome no one would have predicted at the start of the summer, even if Disney's marketing muscle seemed too mighty to fail. The studio clearly did the market research and figured out they'd 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. They expect to do the same next year, with sequel Planes: Fire & Rescue scheduled to open in theaters on July 18.

If nothing else, Planes adds 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. Nineteen, including it, were submitted earlier this month for the award although some still have to fulfill requirements. While Planes has no shot of competing for that award, its existence could help Disney to claim slots for this year's in-house cartoon (Frozen), Pixar's Monsters University, and Hayao Miyazaki's The Wind Rises (which they will distribute here under the Touchstone Pictures banner). 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.

Just over three months after opening, Planes has raced to home video, where it's sure to do fine business this holiday season buoyed by Black Friday sales, a ubiquitous $7 coupon, and the need to show kids who already have Monsters University and The Croods that Santa loves them too, provided that the thought still counts.

Planes: Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy combo pack cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray & DVD Details

1.78:1 Widescreen (DVD Anamorphic)
BD: 7.1 DTS-HD MA (English), Dolby Surround 2.0 (Descriptive Video Service), 7.1 DTS-HD HR (French), Dolby Digital 5.1 (Spanish)
DVD: Dolby Digital 5.1 (English, Spanish), Dolby Surround 2.0 (Descriptive Video Service)
Subtitles: Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, English, Spanish; BD-only: French
DVD Closed Captioned; Extras Subtitled
Release Date: November 19, 2013 / Suggested Retail Price: $44.99
Two single-sided discs (1 BD-50 & 1 DVD-9)
Blue Keepcase in Embossed Cardboard Slipcover
Also available as DVD + Digital Copy ($29.99 SRP), Blu-ray 3D Combo ($49.99 SRP), and Instant Video

VIDEO and AUDIO

Despite the spate of creative flaws, Planes still looks and sounds great on Blu-ray, or as great as it can on its budgeted artistry. As a direct digital transfer, the 1.78:1 widescreen picture is technically perfect, though the animation is far from it. Bright colors and slightly scenic locales are enough to impress in 1080p and to a degree that's what they do here. There's nothing to cite as faulty with the presentation. The 7.1 DTS-HD master audio is aggressive and fittingly full of directionality as planes whiz around you. If there weren't twenty years' worth of CG films that delivered both visual splendor with moving storytelling, this presentation might seem pretty special.

"Franz's Song" completes a deleted musical number conceived for the film. At a plane museum, Director Klay Hall tells his children about their aviator great-grandfather's influence on the film in "Klay's Flight Plan."

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

Planes' Blu-ray's extras begin with the exclusive musical scene "Franz's Song", a deleted sequence finished for this release.
As you can imagine, a scene deemed unworthy of Planes must be pretty bad. This runs 3 minutes and 18 seconds, but the first half of that goes to director Klay Hall and producer Traci Balthazor explaining what this is.

"Klay's Flight Plan" (15:31) is an unorthodox featurette that explains how Hall's idea for a movie about trains merged with Lasseter's idea for a series of planes films. Demonstrating that aviation is in the director's blood, Hall takes his two teenaged sons to look at their great-grandfather's old planes in a California museum and tell them about homages to their family's legacy. It's totally corny and largely unrelated to the movie.

This deleted scene shows Dusty's training in animatic form. El Chupacabra is one of four planes introduced in "Meet the Racers" shorts.

Two additional deleted scenes are included. Presented in animatics, the first shows off Dusty's training. The second, shown in preliminary animation, has Dusty and Ishani enjoy a date in her home nation of India. They run 8 minutes and 10 seconds including lengthy group and individual introductions by Hall and Balthazor.

"Meet the Racers" serves up shorts introducing the following characters, in their own words: El Chupacabra (1:17), Ripslinger (1:17), Dusty (1:32), and Ishani (1:32). They're each obnoxious in their own way.

ESPN'S Colin Cowherd counts down the "Top 10 Flyers" including Charles Lindbergh. The Planes DVD and Blu-ray's main menus are presented like Racing Sports Network graphics.

Finally, ESPN's Colin Cowherd, a voice actor in the film, hosts "Top 10 Flyers" (5:53), a countdown of ten historic real-life pilots, including the Tuskegee Airmen, Howard Hughes, Amelia Earhart, and, of course,
The Wright Brothers. Naturally, it's peppered with Planes clips.

The same disc sold on its own, the DVD only includes "Klay's Flight Plan" and "Meet the Racers."

The discs open with trailers for Planes: Fire & Rescue, Frozen, and The Jungle Book: Diamond Edition. The additional Sneak Peeks promote Disney Movie Rewards, Planes: The Video Game, Disney Store, The Little Mermaid sequels' Two-Movie Collection, Iron Man & Hulk: Heroes United, Mary Poppins: 50th Anniversary Edition, and Tinker Bell's The Pirate Fairy.

The menu plays clips on screens that rise in a high-tech international interface resembling the Racing Sports Network's graphics. Par for a Disney Blu-ray, this one doesn't support bookmarks or resuming. It does remember where you left off if you didn't finish the movie, though.

The side-snapped keepcase adds a Disney Movie Rewards/digital copy booklet, a Disney Movie Club ad, and a manufacturer's coupon for Planes Action Shifter playsets to the two plainly-labeled discs. The case is topped by an embossed slipcover that places prisms in the planes' propellers.

Dusty Crophopper is a winner!

CLOSING THOUGHTS

I hoped that maybe I was too hard on Planes in theaters and that it wasn't really the worst animated film I've seen in years. A second viewing confirms otherwise. This is the worst kind of commercial pandering, the kind that uses a proven brand to diminish it while selling crap and convincing a few to concede "Well, it's not that bad." That we're getting two of these insipid movies before another Pixar one is unfortunate and probably likely to confuse some into mistaking this for being the work of that creative studio.

Disney gives theatrical release to so few films that don't fit into the canons of Pixar, Studio Ghibli, or their own feature animation department that I find each interesting on some level. Planes is less interesting and more irritating than just about all the rest. I would advise you to stay away from this spin-off franchise and not let it get you down about the otherwise healthy state of animation at Disney. But you're forgiven if morbid curiosity gets the best of you and prompts you to give this a look.

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2013 Films: Monsters University • The Croods • Escape from Planet Earth • Grown Ups 2 • After Earth • Phineas and Ferb: Mission Marvel
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 November 24, 2013.



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