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While I tend to over-analyze almost every movie I see, there are some films that are just immune to this sort of critical viewing. This isn’t meant as a slight on these films, but rather a perspective on the film’s intentions. For instance, take the new Disney film, Planes. As the marketing makes abundantly clear, this is a film “from above the world of Cars,” despite the fact that this is NOT a Pixar film. While Pixar tends to dig deep under it’s narratives to explore detailed thematic material, Planes exists simply to entertain. The characters all fulfill stereotypical “types,” the story follows every plot beat you would expect, and everybody gets their “happily ever after.” This is a film that kids will want to watch again and again, and that parents won’t hate. That may not be the most glowing endorsement, but I don’t think it aspires to much more than that.
Dusty Crophopper is a cropduster with a fear of heights. However, he longs for more out of life than the repetitive crop-dusting that has defined who he is. So it is that he finds himself competing in a race across the world. Will he overcome the competition, along with his phobia, to win the big race? Of course he will, but as with so many things, it is all about the journey. As the underdog of the race, his good heart helps him endear himself to the world, along with most of his fellow racers. In telling a story with villains, comic relief, and of course, the good-hearted trainer with a secret, the screenwriter hits every cliché effectively, without it ever feeling forced. It’s a simple film, but it’s fun.
I have to admit, for almost going direct-to-video, there is some surprisingly strong animation in this film. Considering that the premise of the film involves a race across the world, we see a variety of different locations, ranging from Germany, to Mexico, the Himalayas, and even the Taj Mahal. Much like the Cars series, the world is completely fleshed out as if belonging solely to these anthropomorphic modes of transport without a human to be seen. Some of the design work is quite striking, and the environments are completely detailed as well. There are sequences in snow storms, under the ocean, and even a gripping flashback to a Naval war battle. I was never tempted to look away from the screen, as there was always some new detail or aspect of the world to see.
Bonus Clip: Franz’s Song
It’s just a shame that the film is so formulaic. However, kids won’t care, and this is what I mean by the film being “critic-proof.” It’s entertaining enough, and kids will really enjoy themselves. Having said that, it’s obvious that when putting together the Bonus Features, there wasn’t a great expectation that kids would want to sit through any substantial extras. There’s some deleted scenes, including a song featuring a German bipolar plane/car, Franz. There’s also a look at all the racers, and most interesting of all, a feature detailing the director’s history with aviation. We see him teaching his kids about their family lineage, and the connection they have to airplanes. They tour museums, fly in planes, and make it very clear that the concept of aviation is very important to their family. While not at all insightful about the film itself, it’s a beautiful look at the director’s passion for the subject material, and makes the film itself feel slightly more important than it really is.
Overall, this is a completely forgettable film that doesn’t aspire towards anything more than that. Despite a great cast including Dane Cook who voices Dusty with the sarcastic edge that he brings to his comedy, Terri Hatcher and Brad Garrett as his pit crew, Stacey Keach as the mentor with a secret, and even John Cleese as part of the competition, the film never amounts to much. It’s a solid cast for such an inconsequential film. Having said that, I was entertained for the 91 minutes it was on, and you could definitely do much worse. This is nowhere close to Pixar standards, but it gets the job done.