11 August 2013 | StevePulaski
Flies aimlessly - like a cropduster
Planes is a mixture of its direct-inspiration Cars, Monsters University, and the forgotten PBS Kids show Jay Jay the Jet Plane. Even with reminders of brighter, more vivid animated works, Planes is a middling Disney effort and clearly a corporate byproduct from Disney (not Pixar as many will assume) to sell merchandise to children, with the quality of the actual film being a clear afterthought.
The film was originally conceived as a direct-to-DVD film and have a series of sequels follow accordingly. Of course, last minute, Disney decided Planes and its planned sequels possessed enough promise to go theatrical. This decision isn't hard to comprehend; Cars and its sequel weren't critical favorites and their box office receipts were notably lower than previous Pixar films, but their merchandise sales totaled roughly $8 billion. From toy cars, to diecast collectibles, to blankets, to bedspreads, to posters, to stray DVD short films featuring the characters lining store shelves, the marketing behind the Cars name was stunning and blatant. Planes hasn't been graced with the brazenness of toys and TV commercials, making me question why Disney decided to allow the film to go to theaters if they weren't going to milk it for what's its worth.
Whatever; it's probably best the marketing splash for the film was reduced to a quiet disruption in the cinematic ocean. The film focuses on Dusty Crophopper (voiced by Dane Cook), an ambitious cropdusting plane that predictably spends his days flying over tall grass spraying fertilizer. His ambition is to become a racing plane, flying high, soaring to unforeseen heights, and racing around the world. His biggest drawback isn't really the fact that he's not built for flying of this capacity but his fear of heights. Since he is so used to flying at pretty low heights for planes, he fears soaring to the "highway in the sky," as put by Skipper Riley (Stacy Keach), an F4U Corsair with a successful past, who also serves as Dusty's mentor. Backed by a crew of ground-ridden misfits (okay, vehicles) and his passion, which is incorruptible, Dusty's dreams literally soar as he competes in one of the most prestigious plane competitions in the world.
The animation in the film is some of the strangest I've seen in the post-CGI animation takeover. Some scenes are truly evocative and breathtaking, and usually exist when we're somewhere like the Taj Mahal or in The Himalayas. They showcase the location in stark detail and really show off the beauty and majestic area that encompasses such a place. Other scenes, specifically ones that feature several characters on the screen at one time, appear stunningly bland and unfinished. They almost look like unfinished products of CGI animation – like the final still before all the finalizing and color-correcting is done. They lack detail and lighting specifics known in modern animated films, and before you tell me otherwise, remember Disney just brought us "Wreck-It Ralph," which showcased dozens of video game worlds through the beautiful medium that is animation.
This is likely because the project was meant to line store shelves immediately rather than be blown on the big screen. On an average, living-room-size Television, Planes probably looks pretty damn good. On a gigantic theater screen before an audience of maybe fifteen people (in my case), it looked underwhelming. Whether or not you liked "Cars" or its sequel (I'm in the minority that loved the original film and tolerated the sequel), you can't say this film exists on the same level of visual beauty that the latter pictures did. Cars 2, alone, had a number of amazing set-pieces and lighting techniques that were used perfectly. Even Monsters University was beautiful in the way the animation was textured and the way the lighting was used to brighten and liven certain settings. In comparison to the look of other animated features such as Despicable Me 2 and Turbo (both of which currently attracting children now), Planes will likely not come close to the revenue of both of those films or inspire the true awes thanks to the animation.
To all the people who criticized Larry the Cable Guy's Mater as being an insufferable character, I challenge the same people to not mention the stunning shallowness of the characters here, especially the international planes that could be the perfect example as to why other countries view Americans as close-minded and ignorant. Just to give you an inkling as to how deep the international planes are, one is named "El Chupacabra," and is known for being a passionate romantic, a gifted Mexican singer, and a telenovela star. He also boasts the most stereotypical Mexican accent in cinema history. For all you kids out there, imagine Juandissimo Magnifico from The Fairly Odd Parents and there you have it. Even the British plane at one point says, "I don't cry, I'm British!" There are children's films that will make both a child and their parent smile and have a rewarding time at the movies (most of them come from Pixar, but Dreamworks is known for several too). There are children's films that will appeal to children and leave the parents groaning at the thought they had to pay to get in as well.
Then there are films like Planes that may appeal to some children, but the stimulating effect on their growth and mental health shouldn't be sacrificed for the ninety-two minute electronic babysitter that the film is. Everything about the film has been done in previous animated efforts, right down to the "be yourself and be brave" moral at the very end, only this time, it feels especially, almost unacceptably lazy and contrived.