Review: Planes (2013)

Planes

Rating

Director
Klay Hall
Screenplay
Jeffrey M. Howard, John Lasseter, Klay Hall
Length
91 min.
Starring
Dane Cook, Stacy Keach, Brad Garrett, Teri Hatcher, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Priyanka Chopra, John Cleese, Cedric the Entertainer, Carlos Alazraqui, Roger Craig Smith, Anthony Edwards, Val Kilmer, Sinbad, Gabriel Iglesias
MPAA Rating
PG for some mild action and rude humor

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Review
In spite of a drubbing by critics in 2011, Disney/Pixar made a mint off the ill-advised, marketing-heavy sequel Cars 2. That backlash has led to Pixar declaring more original ventures in the near future instead of relying so heavily on the trend of major animation houses to force boatloads of sequels on audiences. Planes, which takes place in the same universe as Cars and Cars 2 has none of the charm or homely feel of the original vehicular opus and there’s a reason for that. It’s not Pixar.

Planes stars comedian Dane Cook as Dusty Crophopper, an ambitious crop duster wanting to compete against other airplanes in a prominent around-the-world race. Yet, his small town origins make him ill-prepared for the world of professional plane racing. On top of all of this, he suffers from a debilitating fear of heights, making his ascent into the record books even more dubious.

With the help of a lonely old World War II bomber (Stacy Keach), a dim-witted pal (Brad Garrett) and a smart-alecky friend (Teri Hatcher), Dusty takes on some of the most prominent planes in the world with his down-home charm and grim determination. It’s Cars‘ Lightning McQueen without the ego.

Ever since the rebirth of Walt Disney Studios in the early 1990’s, Disney has housed a number of up-and-coming animators in a small studio responsible for little more than generating direct-to-video sequels to its most popular films. Countless sequels to its revival films like The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin and many others have kept Disney’s marketing department rolling in dough. As the studio lost its influence as the 1990’s wore on, following a historically common track for the studio, thsoe additional ventures started slowing down.

With the purchase of Pixar, Disney/Pixar decreased its staff in this department that developed young artistic talent and ultimately reduced the number of poorly-written animated adventures it pushed on young children through its direct-to-video outlet. In recent years, those efforts have increased and when Cars, one of Pixar’s lowest grossing features, turned into a merchandising empire, Disney began formulating ways to perpetuate the flow of cash, pushing Pixar into creating a sequel to Cars that it likely didn’t want to make.

Cars 2 proved a success in spite of its complete drop in quality from prior outings, but remained a potent force in the merchandising marketplace, encouraging Disney to begin planning yet another venture into the Cars universe by spinning off into airplane toys and accessories. Although Pixar hasn’t fully admitted it, it’s likely they balked at creating another artistically deviant production from its property leading Disney to push the project off to its direct-to-video subsidiary. Sensing blood in the water, the sharks at Disney decided to push the film out to the box office instead of releasing it solely on home video so they could further enrich their gold-lined pocketbooks.

Disney has, in the past, taken its direct-to-video efforts and done the perfunctory one-week release in order to force an increase in the number of Oscar nominees each year, so they can hopefully pull off more than one nomination, a feat they have successfully accomplished for a number of years. That reasoning aside, Planes got a much bigger marketing push than any of those features ever did, all in the name of selling foreign-manufactured toys.

With all this in mind, it’s little wonder why the film turned out to be so bland. Inexperienced writers and directors aren’t always grossly overrated, but this isn’t the world of independent cinema where getting a film financed can be as daunting a task as making the film in the first place. Here, Disney has the money and workforce to fling at any ill-conceived project they can dream up. It’s one of the reasons Disney has struggled in the live action marketplace for so long. They seek only easily-packaged features that fit their aggressive marketing engine and try their best to make the results as inert and uncontroversial as possible to maximize its audience. Like their hero Dusty Crophopper, Disney has treated the film like it’s a crop duster and not a supersonic jet.

Cook’s performance is as bland as expected, he doesn’t have the experience of capability of Owen Wilson even when Wilson doesn’t seem to try. Keach does a pale, crusty imitation of Paul Newman from the original film while the other actors who voice Crophopper’s friends, Garrett and Hatcher, bring little wit or humor to their obviously-geared roles. Even someone as immensely talented as John Cleese, who voices the British entry in the worldwide race, radios in his performance, cashing his check and putting in the requisite hours without the requisite skill. Julia Louis-Dreyfus has fun as Canadian flyer Rochelle and Carlos Alazraqui is amusing, though heavily stereotyped, as Dusty’s newfound Mexican friend El Chupacabra. Roger Craig Smith and Priyanka Chopra are given too little to do in spite of being two of the race’s more prominent figures. Chopra has the excuse of being stuck in another nationality-based stereotype as the Indian plane, but Smith should have been given more than generic villainy as Crophopper’s chief nemesis.

Yet, you can’t necessarily blame the actors for a lack of scope or style. All except Cook have long histories in entertainment and have delivered find performances on their own. The script itself is the disservice. How much input John Lasseter had on the script is unknown, but I hazard a guess that it’s largely screenwriter Jeffrey M. Howard and co-writer Klay Hall (also the director) that are most responsible for the utter failure to create tension, believability and genuine humor in their screenplay. Howard has predominently worked on Disney’s direct-to-video Tinkerbell outings while Hall has been working primarily in television where animation isn’t expected to be that forward-thinking unless it’s in prime time.

I was impressed with the original Cars and thought it had a lot more going for it than many others; however, I was on the negative side of Cars 2, which is easily Pixar’s worst film. Somewhere far below these an on par with Disney flops like Home on the Range sits Planes, a cash-grab that lacks the heart and entertainment quality of the world in which it’s set.
Oscar Prospects
Potentials: Animated Feature
Review Written
August 26, 2013

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