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Entries in Planes [2013] (1)


Planes (2013)

The Sky's Not Falling

My interest in seeing Planes diminished considerably a few weeks ago when, over lunch, I found out the movie was not done by Pixar. The marketing geniuses at Disney (who purchased the digital-animation powerhouse several years ago) advertised their new high-flying adventure as coming to us "from above the world of Cars"--which is perhaps Pixar's most profitable but least respected franchise. The tie-in was so implicit that the film's world and characters bore many similarities to those in Cars; no one could fault the casual observer for not picking up on the switcheroo.

[Author guiltily raises his hand.]

Never doubt the amazing power of suggestion. On hearing the news, I couldn't watch Planes commercials with the same anticipation as I'd had when I thought Pixar was behind it. On closer scrutiny, some of the imagery looked cheap somehow, and I began to wonder if my animation-nerd friends had been right about director Klay Hall's new feature being just a cynical cash-grab by the Mouse House, chock full of potentially bank-breaking toy-design variants.

I finally saw the movie yesterday and, if any of what I've just written is true, it sure doesn't show on the screen. Planes won't generate any awards-season buzz--the way movies like Up, Wall-E, or even Tangled did--but parents of toddlers should expect to have it in heavy rotation when it hits home video. This is a fun and funny, kid-friendly adventure--and there's nothing wrong with that.

Dane Cook voices Dust Crophopper, a crop duster who dreams of someday competing in the "Race Around the World" against the planet's top aircraft. Despite lots of teasing and a bit of a self-esteem problem, Dusty enters the qualifying challenge and slips into the competition due to a technicality. Much of the film takes place over the course of the continent-crossing contest, with Dusty getting remote training advice from a cranky old World War 2 fighter jet named Skipper (Stacy Keach). Along the way, he befriends a Mexican plane named El Chupacabra (Carlos Alazraqui) and develops a crush on India's champion bird, Ishani (Priyanka Chopra). There's a villain, of course, reigning champion and all-around jerk, Ripslinger (Roger Craig Smith), who sees Dusty's presence as a slap in the face to "real" planes who want to compete.

If your head is tingling with deja vu, you've likely spent a lot of time in the multiplex this summer, surrounded by kids. Planes shares a very similar plot with Monsters University and Turbo, but in its defense, screenwriter Jeffrey M. Howard executes the material just as well as the others. Besides, I can't fault filmmakers for coming up with similar kinds of movies; unless there's a really popular Hollywood Starbucks where animation-features writers gather to talk plots, I'll have to file this case under "Coincidence".

Even though I'd sat through a version of this same picture once a month for the duration of the season, I wasn't bored by Planes. Thanks largely to the spot-on voice acting, cute puns and wordplay, and the beautiful, imaginative locations rendered by the Disney artists. This is a very warm movie, much in the way that Cars was--and I think that's where the Pixar prejudice comes into play.

Cars was not well-received by Pixar fans at the time of its release, due in large part to the fact that it was the first of the studio's movies to not shoot for entertainment that could appeal to both adults and children. It was purely a well-made kids' movie that grown-ups would have to settle for enjoying on that level. On top of that, it was kind of a movie about NASCAR, co-starring Larry the Cable Guy. In other words, Pixar hadn't just gone kid-friendly, they'd gone full-blown, sell-out-stupid to the redneck community.

I understand that surface-level analysis of Cars, but it's impossible to watch that film with an open mind and walk away with those same feelings. This holds true for Planes, too. It's headlined by Dane Cook, a multimillionaire stand-up comic whose once-popular frat-boy persona is now required to be mocked by card-carrying hipsters everywhere. Combine that baggage with the Cars thing; the speculation about the movie only being a money-making enterprise; and the fact that it wasn't actually made by Pixar, and you have a built-in skepticism and unwillingness to give the film a chance.

That's a shame, because there's a lot to like here. While I did notice a few things that could've benefited from some of that good ol' intangible Pixar pixie dust, I didn't spend the movie groaning at short-cuts and missed opportunities (it's not like Planes is Hoodwinked or something). It looks to me like the legions of animators, designers, and other creatives behind this movie did the very best they could. So I'm not going to draw quality distinctions between the Pixar and Disney "teams", as if one is the varsity squad and the other is comprised of delinquents and morons.

But I've strayed way too far into adult matters that mean absolutely nothing to the generation of kids who will grow up loving this movie. Sure, I've seen films that are so cynical and soulless that I cringe when thinking that they may become classics, but Planes rubs me the right way. It's full of good lessons and good will, and I left the theatre wiping away tears and flying high.