PLANESDirector: Klay Hall
Cast: Dane Cook, Stacy Keach, Brad Garrett, Teri Hatcher, Cedric the Entertainer, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, John Cleese, Carlos Alazraqui, Priyanka Chopra, Gabriel Iglesias, Roger Craig Smith, Colin Cowherd, Sinbad, Oliver Kalkofe, Brent Musburger, Anthony Edwards, Val Kilmer
Genre: Animation, Comedy, Family
Run Time: 95 mins
Opens: 5 September 2013
Dusty Crophopper (Cook) is a cropduster plane who harbours dreams of racing in the big leagues; dreams that are duly shot down by his boss Leadbottom (Cedric the Entertainer) and his mechanic/friend Dottie (Hatcher). His best friend, fuel truck Chug (Garrett) stands by his side, and Dottie eventually comes around to supporting him. Dusty seeks the mentorship of Skipper (Keach), a “get off my lawn”-type WWII veteran. Dusty soon finds himself smack dab in the middle of the glamourous racing world, in the running for the championship title in a globe-hopping aerial rally. He meets colourful characters such as Mexican race-plane El Chupacabra (Alazraqui), the Pan-Asian champ Ishani (Chopra), stiff upper-lipped British deHavilland Comet Bulldog (Cleese) and F/A-18 Super Hornets Bravo (Val Kilmer) and Echo (Anthony Edwards). Naturally, he must defeat the arrogant reigning title-holder Ripslinger (Smith), who sneers at the cropduster at every turn.
First things first – this isn’t a Pixar film. Planes was made by DisneyToon Studios, responsible for all those direct-to-video sequels of classic animated films, stuff like Cinderella II: Dreams Come True, The Hunchback of Notre Dame 2 and The Lion King 2: Simba’s Pride. Accordingly, Planes was intended for direct-to-video release, but the higher-ups at Disney figured a theatrical run might be a better way to make a quick buck. Truth be told, the film doesn’t look that bad – while it certainly lacks the richness of Pixar’s animation, there are still colourful, fairly exciting visuals and the 3D is put to really good effect, enhancing the many flying sequences.
However, the story couldn’t be any more formulaic if it willed itself to. The “farm boy with big dreams and a destiny to fulfill” archetype was already old when Star Wars came out a good 36 years ago, let alone today. It’s as paint-by-numbers an underdog story as underdog stories go. You’ve got the protagonist who is repeatedly told “you’re not built to race, you’re built to dust crops”, the “Mickey Goldmill” stock mentor character, the “Gonna Fly Now”-style training montage, the scene where our hero from a small town is awestruck by the bright lights of the big city…we really could go on. While most of Pixar’s films marry a clever high-concept premise with memorable characters, this marries a premise we’ve seen a million times with characters we’ve also seen a million times.
Jon Cryer was originally cast as Dusty but was replaced with Dane Cook, someone who has truly earned his reputation as one of the most unlikeable, loathsome even, comedians working today many times over. An earnest, naïve and good-hearted hero isn’t the type of role one would expect Cook to take on but thankfully, it’s not too difficult to forget that it was him in the recording booth. The supporting cast provides a world tour of generic accents and are generally okay. The standout is probably Priyanka Chopra, who manages to imbue Ishani with an elegant knowingness and a hint of sultry appeal. Top Gun fans might also enjoy Anthony Edwards and Val Kilmer giving a wink and a nod to that plane movie in this one.
Sure, the story is as painfully straightforward as they come, but the film does manage to be pretty funny. From the punny names (sports commentator Brent Musburger voices “Brent Mustangburger”, reprising his role from the Cars movies) to the cultural stereotypes that are either amusing or potentially misleading for children, a fair number of jokes land. There are also the “getting crap past the radar” moments, such a castration gag, which the filmmakers probably hope zip over the heads of most of the kids in the audience. Apart from that inappropriateness, a flashback to a violent World War II battle and a sequence set above a stormy sea (both admittedly well done) might be a little intense for the very young ‘uns.
It’s the general consensus that Cars and Cars 2 are two of Pixar’s weakest efforts, so perhaps the faintest compliment is in order, seeing how Planes manages to stay on par with them. It will never stand alongside WALL-E, Finding Nemo or The Incredibles – then again, neither will the Cars films. At the very least, it’s a good deal of fun to look at and is likely to enthrall the tykes.
SUMMARY: Planes’ primary function is as a way to make begrudging parents empty their wallets at toy stores. For a movie made with that express purpose in mind, it certainly could be worse.
RATING: 2.5 out of 5 STARS