by Callum Petch
Why does Disney’s Planes exist? If you answered “To empower kids with the positive message that you can do anything if you set your mind to it, to create a fitting tribute to the wonders of aviation and to add a vital new chapter to the Cars universe”, you probably work in the marketing department for this film. If you instead answered “Money”, you’d probably be spot on. It’s no secret that this was initially a direct-to-DVD movie that Disney decided to expand to a trilogy of theatrical releases after they were ‘impressed’ with the results of initial production. However, considering the quality of the finished product, it is extremely hard to think of any reason that doesn’t involve “money” because Planes is absolutely abysmal. Not just generic and boring but also surprisingly offensive in parts, extremely cheap and carrying an aura of laziness; a film that never even attempts to earn its right to a theatrical release. If Planes were a direct-to-DVD movie, it would barely be considered average. As a film being released in cinemas, it is utterly dreadful.
See how many clichés you can tick off in the following plot summary. Dusty Crophopper (Dane Cook pulling off his best Owen Wilson impersonation) is a crop duster who desperately wants to become a racer, but is afraid of heights and, well, is a crop duster. However; with the help of a crotchety mentor whose past is not completely honest (Stacy Keach doing his best Paul Newman impression), his best friends, a fuel truck named Chug (Brad Garrett playing a less annoying Larry The Cable Guy) and a forklift mechanic named Dottie (Teri Hatcher miserably attempting to sound 20 years younger than she is), and a lot of guts; he may just have a shot at surprising the world and beating the overly-cocky and disrespectful three-time champion Ripslinger (Roger Craig Smith pulling off his best Troy Baker impression) in the Wings Around The World rally.
There is nothing in that plot summary that you have not seen at least a hundred times before, even as recently as Dreamworks’ Turbo, but you likely haven’t seen it performed this badly in a long-ass while. Better animated movies… hell, better movies in general are able to take these potentially generic plot points and execute them in ways that are greater than they look on paper. Planes prefers to just hit all the beats and knock off for lunch. Characters are all one-dimensional archetypes with no depth and the cast is so overstuffed as to allow none of them any time to actually gain any depth. Most of them can be summed up in one trait and most of those traits go something along the lines of “Is British” or “Is Mexican” or “Is French”. The sheer number of outdated cultural stereotypes that supposedly constitute genuine characterization is bewilderingly large and smacks of a script that never progressed past the first draft because such an act would have required people doing work.
In fact, laziness and cheapness are the order of the day, here, because they purveys throughout almost every single aspect of the film. From bored VAs turning in paycheck-collecting performances (the only one who even seems to be trying is Roger Craig Smith), to extremely boring and uninventive racing sequences, to montage sequences set to chart-ready pop songs that are as on-the-nose as humanly possible (you’d better believe that New York is introduced with a Hip-Hop song that endlessly name-checks New York) to what the film constitutes as “jokes”.
There are two types of jokes in Planes. They’re either terrible, terrible puns (“Oh for flying out loud” is a line the film incorrectly assumes to be inherently funny) or jokes about or involving outdated cultural stereotypes (a French-Canadian racer named Rochelle’s entire gag is that she speaks random French-Canadian phrases). Sometimes, though, the film tries a different tack. Sometimes it attaches a pop culture reference to its terrible puns (“My Flypad!” “Quit crying, there’ll be a new one out in two months.”), sometimes it makes appalling jokes about conjoined twins separated at birth (“They’re so cool! I wish I was separated at birth!” exclaims the fuel truck character and it’s funny because they were conjoined twins and he’s stupid), sometimes it combines outdated cultural stereotypes with jokes about people with split-personality disorder (no, really), and sometimes it decides to sneak swearwords by thanks to terrible puns (hint: it involves the pronunciation of Aston Martin). When they aren’t just landing with duds, they’re being actively offensive to decent taste. I’m not opposed to adult jokes in kids’ films, but I am opposed to them being done this shoddily.
So, corners have been cut in the story, jokes and voice performances but surely they haven’t been in the animation, right? Surely some effort must have been put into this department? This is Disney we’re talking about, after all? Oh, how I wish I could answer in the affirmative. Animation is stiff and unengaging, and not just because they’re planes. Facial expressions are repetitive and often emotionless. Most characters shift between the same four or five quite robotically and mouth movements are awkward and unconvincing, especially with how they kind of cut off after a certain point of the character models. Cars, despite all of its faults, managed to make its characters feel natural and anthropomorphic; Planes’ cast always feel robotic and unnatural. It undermines the bright and breezy (if wholly generic) Cars colour scheme so much that I was actually tired of this world even before we actually made it to the Wings Around The World championship, based solely on the lifeless animation. Not helped by action sequences that, despite swooping dynamic cameras, lack pop, energy or anything that even remotely resembles the terror and adrenaline in plane-flying.
Believe it or not, however, it gets worse. I actually saw several sequences that didn’t look finished. Dusty’s flight through a snow storm regresses in animation the further on it goes, going from looking quite nice to having icebergs that look like they’re being dragged along on screen by a curser and lacking textures. The only things missing were the wire-frames that they’re animated on. A top-down racing shot across the desert made it look like Dusty was flying across a blurry screen-cap of a desert from Google Maps. Rain drops, despite landing on background characters perfectly fine, never show up on the main planes who also never actually look sufficiently wet despite flying through rain storms; criminal for the number of setpieces involving rain. And, in at least one instance, I caught character lip movements that were out of sync with the vocal performance. You try pulling this kind of crap on an animated TV show for pre-schoolers and you’d be out on your arse in seconds flat. To get this in a major animated movie receiving a theatrical release in 2013 is inexcusable and bewildering.
Finally, I want to talk about one scene that really shocked and appalled me but it constitutes a spoiler so, if you still haven’t been convinced to steer clear of Planes and don’t want this scene spoilt, skip this paragraph. Still here? OK. So, there’s a backstory reveal that involves Dusty’s mentor, Skipper Riley, being a war plane who, despite his tails of bravery, only flew one mission because, during said mission, he got his entire team massacred by enemy forces. This sequence comes out of nowhere and involves the on-screen murder of at least 10 characters. None of them have personalities and all of them only exist to be shot down in flames but that doesn’t help matters any because, according to the universe that this film exists in, at least ten characters are viciously murdered on-screen. It’s like everybody involved forgot the rules of the Cars universe and were really hoping that you would too because, sweet Jesusing Maker, that sh*t is just plain not acceptable for a U-rated kids’ movie, I don’t care how you slice it! It is so tonally at odds with everything that comes before and after it, that I was just bewildered by it and spent the rest of the movie with a very sour taste left from it.
I honestly don’t know who Planes is for. I was in a cinema packed full of kids and parents with their kids (I was the only teenager there with neither, the things I do for you people) and even they didn’t like it. As the movie went on, the kids were getting restless and visibly and physically bored (I say physically because one started kicking the back of my chair at irregular intervals after the halfway mark) and the parents I could see were barely tolerating what they were suffering through. So, I ask, who is Planes for? If the kids were bored by it, and the parents could barely stand it, and I was sat there repulsed by almost every facet of it, who is it for? Presumably, no-one. This is a clearly not a film designed to be any good. This is clearly not a film designed to be an artistic statement or to push boundaries. This is clearly not even a film designed with any care or effort. This film clearly only exists to justify another $10 billion or so in toys and merchandise and it’s only in cinemas to advertise those toys to the widest possible audience; nothing more.
I wouldn’t recommend Planes to anyone. Not unless you love a film with bored voice performances, extremely sub-standard animation, a story that’s been told better by almost everybody else on the planet, characters that have less depth than a Geordie Shore cast member and a script that clearly never proceeded past the first draft and is loaded to the brim with abysmal puns and offensive stereotypes; sometimes both at once. And if that is a film that has you running towards the cinema with your money clutched in a fist that’s sticking out, fire and excitement in your eyes, then I worry for your taste in film.
Kids’ films deserve better. Kids deserve better. You deserve better. Don’t watch this.
Callum Petch is driving home from his meth lab. He goes by @jackanderson on the Screened forums. Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch), listen to the Pupcast (iTunes link) and read his weekly gaming column Petchulant over at GameSparked (site link).