Planes (Hall, 2013) marks the third theatrical visit to the world of Cars. In case you were curious as to how the two previous Pixar efforts are connected to this wholly Disney outing, the opening sigil reads: “From the World of Cars“, which is immediately followed by the title card, followed by a one-two punch of fart jokes. Obviously, this film has baggage and Dane Cook. It’s already got the distinction of occupying the same environment as Pixar’s worst films, and is no longer spearheaded by that mostly illustrious studio. The result is a rote and antiquated story, an incredibly atonal flashback sequence, and a cast of rehashed Cars characters with the addition of some incredibly racist takes on new characters.
Anyway, if you’ve seen Cars and Cars 2, then you’ve seen Planes. The first quarter of the film is set in a sleepy community, not much different from Radiator Springs, and the next three quarters are set during the World Grand Prix, but, ya know, for planes. However, whereas Cars understood the juxtaposition of the speedy, race life and the measured, rural outlook, the dichotomy is completely lost on everyone involved in the making of this film.
Our protagonist is Dusty Crophopper (Cook), a crop duster (see what they almost kind of did there) who likes to go fast, but is afraid of heights. He dreams of being a world-class racing plane, and after a day of daydreaming and training with the town’s mysterious aeronautic war hero (there is zero sense of time in the film), he decides to try out for one of five amateur spots in the professional circuit (like golf, I guess). During the speed trials he’s made fun of by the other participants for being a “farm boy” and for possessing crop dusting equipment, which is used as a stand in for dick jokes throughout the film.
Anyway, Dusty races well and earns the respect of all the other race planes, but comes in sixth. Fortunately for Dusty, one of the racers was roiding, so the spot falls to him. Soon he’s off to New York to meet the cast of international racers. You know they’re international because of their manner of dress, linguistic patterns and obsession with cultural signifiers. The new Mater is El Chupacabre (Alazraqui), an overly amorous, masked luchador plane who moonlights as a mariachi singer. Other nationalities fair slightly better, save for the overly needy, French Canadian, Rochelle (Louise-Dreyfus), who happens to be the object of El Luchador’s desire.
Here, we are also introduced to the antagonist, Ripslinger (Smith), who is a carbon copy, down to the green and black exterior, of Chick Hicks from the first film. Problem is, he isn’t voiced by Michael Keaton, who brought a decent schtick to the first film’s villain. Ripslinger lies, cheats, and extorts his way through most of the race, and Dusty is the righteous and courteous foil. And it’s exactly as interesting as it sounds.
Without a doubt the most interesting sequence of the film is a flashback pertaining to the mystery surrounding our new Doc character, Skipper (Keatch). We find out that Skipper is not exactly all that his legend and demeanor would suggest. In fact, he flew only a single mission, as a commander, and made a decision that led to the slaughter of his entire fleet. Yeah, exactly as worded; and the scene is handled with the tact of a Hot Shots Part Duex. It’s kind of incredible and comes out of nowhere. For the entire runtime, we are treated to the most basic and safest of storytelling tropes, and then… mass casualties in combat. Young (ostensibly, I guess) planes shot down and blown to bits in midair. It would have been a ballsy scene if it had any weight to it.
The problem with Planes isn’t that the story is basic, it’s a film for 3-6 year olds, introduction to these basic story elements are actually essential to their development. It’s ok to update these “starter stories” every couple of years. Unfortunately for Planes, those basic elements are confused, unfocused and slapdash throughout the feature. This is coupled with the most unfortunate reliance on cultural stereotypes and cock & fart jokes for laughs. There is nary a trace of competence thrown into the entire feature, and does little to do the one thing it seems to want to do, teach kids how to not be total dicks. The value of the film lay wholly in audiences rejecting culturally insensitive representations of others.
I have to give it a 1 out of 5 nerdskulls for myself but my son enjoyed it… he gives it a 2.5
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If you’ve seen the movie let us know what you thought of it.