Planes may be set "above the world of Cars!", but it struggles to reach even the modest heights of Pixar's most lackluster franchise. Get it? Heights? Because planes? I know, I know...I'm sorry. On the other hand, if you dug that pun, chances are that
you'll really like Planes.
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Planes is a lot like Cars, only with...well, you know. More googly-eyed, chatterbox vehicles. Another speck-on-the-map town. Another big race. Another exciteable truck sidekick. Another crotchety old mentor whose glory days are a distant blur in the rear view mirror. I guess I'm being a little unfair here; the broadest strokes may sound the same, but the execution is pretty different.
Dusty Crophopper has racing in his blood...or, well, he thinks he does. The guy's a cropduster, slooooowwwwwly moving in straight lines a stone's throw from the ground day after day after day after day. He's not built for speed, he's never competed in a race before, and heck, he's afraid of heights! With some upgrades from reluctant mechanic Dottie, with expert training from a grizzled old WWII fighter, and with his fuel truck buddy Chug egging him on, Dusty stops dreaming and starts racing. No matter how many other planes scoff and sneer his way, Dusty even winds up qualifying for the über-prestigious Wings Across the World race. It's the sort of endurance race that'd be grueling for even the most seasoned competitors, but for a green-around-the-gills first-timer like Dusty...? He has his work cut out for him. Thankfully, between the old friends who cheer him on and the new ones he makes along the way, Dusty has plenty of support in his corner. Ooooohhhh, but four-time champ Ripslinger isn't crazy about having an amateurish outsider tarnishing the prestige of the race, and he's not afraid to play dirty to ensure there's another trophy on his mantle.
It's no real surprise that Planes was originally intended to make a beeline straight-to-video. The voicework -- with Dane Cook, Cedric the Entertainer, Teri Hatcher, Brad Garrett, Stacy Keach, Sinbad, John Cleese, and Julia Louis-Dreyfus among those on the bill -- is a little too broad and Saturday morning for my tastes. No matter how much aviation jargon they shove in there (and good night, is there a lot!), the delivery definitely sounds like they're talking down to six year olds. As gorgeous as much of the
environmental work is, Planes' world doesn't look lived-in the way Cars' does. Just about everything is blandly smooth and shiny. There are a couple of sequences that are absolute knockouts visually -- a flashback to a WWII aerial assault, a breakneck preview of a training run, and a claustrophobic shortcut through a train tunnel, most memorably -- but not much else about Planes really gets the adrenaline pumping, no matter how many legs of the race are thrown at me or how skillfully the movie conveys its sense of speed.
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There are a metric ton of characters, none of whom are all that interesting or memorable, and Ripslinger as the arrogant reigning champ doesn't even manage to be all that boo-hiss worthy. I appreciate that the global scope of the race throws in a lot of greatly varied environments in an attempt to keep things from feeling static or stale, but Planes still seems to plod along too slowly. Minus credits, it's barely an 80 minute movie, and with borderline-zero surprises or unexpected turns along the way, it feels 20 or 30 minutes longer than that. Characterization is thin for a lot of Dusty's competitors, even with a couple of uninvolving romances tossed in there to try to spice things up. Its sense of humor leans pretty heavily on puns with occasional quips about stuff like Apple releasing a new iPad every few months. Don't expect much in the way of laughs. I'm still trying to figure out if Planes is poking fun at excessive merchandising or reminding kids to bug their parents for playsets an' action figures. Either way, Planes has by all accounts been a merchandising juggernaut for Disney, so I guess it worked.
Planes is okay. I wasn't groaning for an hour and a half straight. I wasn't miserably bored. It's one of those movies that's just sort of there: forgettable, uninspired, predictable product. Disney traditionally makes movies for families: films that everyone can pile onto the couch and enjoy together. Planes is pretty much for kids only, the type of thing where you press play and leave the room. For older fans, it's watchable enough to warrant a rental but nothing I'd ever go back to a second time. Rent It.
Hey, at least it looks nice. Planes' candy-colored visuals are crisp, vibrant, and richly detailed. Not up to Pixar's dizzyingly high standards, no, but solid enough just the same. I couldn't spot any sputters or stutters in the AVC encode, and the computer animation hasn't been clumsily filtered to ease compression. No complaints!
Planes makes extensive use of seamless branching, presumably for localization. The movie arrives on a dual-layer Blu-ray disc at an aspect ratio of 1.78:1.
Why settle for 5.1? Planes' 24-bit DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack tosses on a couple more channels to go for 7.1 surround sound. It's pretty well-done too. The voicework and effects are clean and distinct. There are all sorts of silky smooth pans from one channel to the next, and the sense of separation across the three front speakers is particularly strong. The surrounds also do a terrific job heightening the intensity of the racing sequences, and it sure doesn't hurt that the whole thing is backed by a meaty, low-frequency kick. Again, not in the same league as the usual big-budget animated flicks but no major gripes.
A descriptive video service track has also been included (Dolby Digital stereo surround; 320kbps). Though there's only one lossless soundtrack, the 24-bit French DTS-HD HR audio doesn't lag too far behind. Last up is a Dolby Digital 5.1 dub 640kbps) in Spanish. Subtitles are offered in English (SDH), French, and Spanish.
- Klay's Flight Plan (16 min; HD): So many making-of featurettes are oriented around the nuts and bolts of production. This
one aims the spotlight instead on director Klay Hall, a filmmaker whose passion for aviation runs several generations deep. Among the topics tackled here are Hall's familial connections to planes, the intense research that went into the film (including flying vintage aircraft!), and the distinctive designs and personalities behind the planes that made it into the movie.
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- Deleted Scenes (11 min; HD): Director Klay Hall and producer Traci Balthazor-Flynn introduce three deleted scenes. The most noteworthy of the bunch is a bierhall dance number with Flynn, a car/plane hybrid who encourages Dusty to ditch his spray tanks, the vestigial remains of his...wait, did I just use the "vestigial" in a review of Planes? Sorry, sorry, sorry. This sequence is fully finished with theatrical quality CG animation, full color correction, and all that jazz. Elsewhere on the disc is an animatic detailing one of many attempts at Planes' big training montage. There's also pre-vis CG of a Lady and the Tramp-inspired romantic romp near the Taj Mahal between Dusty and Ishani.
- Meet the Racers (6 min; HD): I'm used to these sorts of "get to know the cast!" extras just being a bunch of clips from the movie. With Planes, Dusty, El Chupacabra, Ripslinger, and Ishani score brand new animated shorts, each clocking in around a minute and a half a pop. Really creative and really well-done, especially Ishani's Bollywood number.
- Top 10 Flyers (6 min; HD): As a great man once said, if you're not careful, you just might learn something! "Top 10 Flyers" counts down some of the real life mavericks of aviation history. It's quick and quippy, so you won't get bored. Pinky promise.
Planes is a combo pack that also piles on an anamorphic widescreen DVD and a Digital Copy + code. The whole thing comes packaged in a shiny, embossed slipcover.
The Final Word
Toy Story 2 was originally slated to head straight to video, but it was bumped up to a theatrical release when everyone involved realized what a magical film they were crafting. Planes was initially going to head direct to video as well, but it got the thumbs-up for a run in theaters when...well, $$$. It's a gamble that paid off for Disney, grossing nearly $220 million worldwide and moving who knows how much in merchandising. Planes isn't as awful as some of the scathing reviews would have you believe, but it's too mediocre and instantly forgettable to warrant anything more than a rental. Rent It.