PlanesReviewed By Peter Sobczynski
Posted 08/10/13 17:37:06
Despite their massive popularity, it is pretty much a recognized fact that the "Cars" movies occupy the lower rungs of their creative ladder but even so, they were still a few momentary pleasures to be had. The cars themselves looked nice--and any film that celebrated the aesthetic joys of the Hudson Hornet deserves a little bit of recognition--and some of the vocal performances were spot-on, especially the work delivered in the first by Paul Newman in what would turn out to be his last role. More significantly, Pixar leader John Lasseter is apparently a stone freak when it comes to automobiles and the films, if nothing else, do convey his love and enthusiasm for them.On the other hand, "Planes," Disney's attempt to milk more money out of the shockingly successful "Cars" franchise by offering a new story set within that universe with a brand new set of characters that can be translated into toys, T-shirts and other such crap, is little more than a filmed business memo designed to do nothing more but generate cash. In fact, it was originally intended to be a straight-to-video release until someone decided that there would be enough bored kids in early August to make a theatrical run financially viable. (Perhaps they also realized by that point that "The Lone Ranger' would soon be hemorrhaging cash and that they would need all the money they could get.) Even in a year that has not exactly been bustling with triumphs in the realm of animated films, "Planes" represents some kind of nadir for the genre in general and Disney in particular.
It is the kind of film that some parents will deem suitable for kids because it doesn't contain the usual things that will warp or harm them, such as graphic sex, grisly violence, filthy language and the gratuitous use of Greta Gerwig. However, its bland inoffensiveness is just as offensive as any of those things and its absolute unwillingness to try to find a way to entertain or inspire the minds of those who are beginning to have their formative moviegoing experiences is almost too depressing to contemplate. When I was three years old, I saw my first movie--"Dumbo"--and it remains my earliest conscious memory and it literally helped shape my life. The best thing I can hope for younger viewers of "Planes" is that they forget about the entire thing as quickly as possible.
The story. Even if you don't know the particulars of the story, my guess is that you can pretty much figure out the details without much of a hassle. Anyway, in what continues to appear to be Earth after being Overdrived to the Maximum, a spunky plane named Dusty (voiced by Dane Cook) yearns to take part in an annual race around the world despite the slight complication that he is a mere crop duster not meant for such speeds or distances. Nevertheless, thanks to plenty of moxie and grit, a loyal support crew consisting of grizzled WW II veteran Skipper (Stacy Keach), ace mechanic Dottie (Teri Hatcher) and dopey sidekick Chug (Brad Garrett) and the disqualification of a competitor due to an illegal fuel additive (subtle!), he gets his chance at last to fly with the big boys. This is a good thing because otherwise, we might spend the rest of the film pondering why an apparently human-free world found it necessary to have a World War II in the first place.
His presence instantly irks reigning champ Ripslinger (Roger Craig Smith), who constantly sneers and schemes of ways to bring Dusty down with the help of his two henchplanes (played, in a "Top Gun" reference that goes practically nowhere), but he soon befriends a bunch of other planes who just happen to represent key ethnic demographics presumably designed to help with the films international release--snooty Brit Bulldog (John Cleese), sexy Indian Ishani (Priyanka Chopra, whose voice is giggity-inducing enough to almost make the scenes her character appears in bearable from an audio perspective), exuberant Mexican El Chupacabra (Carlos Alazraqui) and the chalupa of his eye, coquettish French-Canadian Rochelle (Julia Louis Dreyfus). Unless you have never seen a film before, you can probably guess what happens next and if you have never seen a film before, why burst your metaphorical cherry on this one?
I realize that I have probably used that last joke once or twice in the past but when a film like "Planes" comes along that doesn't even try to offer viewers anything new, why should I put in the effort to come up with some new insults. Yes, I realize that this was originally designed to be a made-for-DVD project designed to keep kids quiet in the back seat during long car trips but even by those standards, this thing is pretty terrible. The story is tritely unmemorable and barely contains enough plot to fuel one of those old cartoon shorts that you kind of suffered through while waiting for the next Tom & Jerry epic to come on. The characters are similarly one-dimensional and the only thing that the voice work reveals is that the sound of Dane Cook is as odiously unpleasant as the sight of him. Even taken simply as eye candy for kid, it comes up short because of the absence of the usual visual sheen one expects from a full-scale Pixar project and because, quite frankly, the sight of airplanes with faces that can talk and wisecrack and make heartfelt declarations is goddamned creepy.
A couple of weeks ago, I was privileged to be asked to participate in a summer camp run by Chicago's invaluable Facets Multimedia that instructed kids on all parts of the filmmaking process. My job was to talk to a group of kids between the ages of 7-10 about what a critic does and how one goes about analyzing what works and doesn't work in a movie and articulating those views in a thoughtful and entertaining manner. The whole thing went great--I only swore twice (by actual count), the kids asked thoughtful and interesting questions and they even demonstrated a surprising amount of good taste by their approval of such masterworks as the films of Hayao Miyazaki and "Singin' in the Rain." (Okay, with one vociferous exception, they weren't too big on the "kissing scenes" in the latter but I assured them that they would not doubt feel differently about such things in a few years.)I found myself thinking about those kids a lot while I was watching "Planes." Here is a film that is aimed directly at their particular age group but while it is filled with bright color, loud noises and fast action, it has nothing of value or interest to offer them other than those most basic of elements. If those kids ever decided to actually write their own reviews of it, I would love to read them because I am fairly certain of two things. 1.) I am convinced that even children that young would recognize it as being nothing more than a lazy ripoff of something that wasn't that great in the first place. 2.) I am equally convinced that in explaining why they disliked it, they would expend more thought and energy than the people who actually made the film.
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