Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Planes (2013) - Those Wacky Flying Machines

It's Off to the Sometimes Friendly Skies with Goose, Iceman and Dusty

Planes 2013

Technically a spin-off of the wildly successful "Cars" and "Cars 2," the latter of which introduced the idea of talking airplanes, "Planes" makes use of the third dimension with a vengeance. , the head honcho of the "Cars" production team at studio Pixar, had been the major driver behind the "Cars" films there. In the meanwhile, he had become the boss at Disney as well as Pixar. Lasseter, aside from being awesomely talented, was uniquely aware of the possibilities of the "Cars" franchise and also uniquely positioned to do something about it. He came up with the concept and story of "Planes" (2013), directed by Klay Hall for DisneyToon Studios, and wrote up the screenplay with Hall and . Having a realistic approach to "Planes," though, Lasseter, to his credit, did not try to ram it through as a major theatrical release with all the trimmings. Instead, he pawned "Planes" off on the arm of Disney that typically made direct-to-video releases, and the decision to release "Planes" theatrically was only made very late in the process. It was a good decision, too, for 'Planes" became a solid, if unspectacular, moneymaker for the studio.

Planes 2013
Dusty is a determined lad

Working as a cornfield cropduster, Dusty Crophopper dreams of moving on to greater things such as racing. His buddy the fuel truck, Chug, supports these dreams, but his boss, Leadbottom, and the forklift mechanic think he is delusional. Trying to qualify for the big Wings Across the World race, Dusty comes in a disappointing sixth and fails to earn a slot by one spot. However, because the finisher ahead of him was found to have cheated, Dusty moves up into fifth and thus is able to participate in the big race.

Planes 2013
Dusty meets the big boys at JFK

His friends still think that Dusty is just setting himself up for disappointment, and an old navy war plan named Skippy tries to talk him out of the attempt. However, Dusty's enthusiasm wins Skippy over, and he begins training on speed and agility. A major problem develops in that Dusty, who cropdusts at low altitudes, turns out to have a fear of heights ("acrophobia"), but he perseveres. At the race, held at JFK Airport in New York City, Dusty befriends Mexican racer El Chupacabra, who is in love with fellow French-Canadian racer Rochelle. Dusty also finds love with fellow competitor Ishani. Not everyone there is friendly to Dusty, however, as repeat winner Ripslinger treats him with disdain.

Planes 2013
El Chupacabra is Mexican

The race, which will circle the globe, begins with Dusty falling far behind the leaders because of his acrophobia. During the race's second leg, Dusty still has problems, but saves fellow racer Bulldog from death. Dusty is still trying hard, and Ishani gives him some inside tips about flying in India which unexpectedly enables Dusty to make up ground on the leaders. However, he learns that Ishani in fact was trying to sabotage him on behalf of Ripslinger by sending him on a dangerous route.

Planes 2013
Bulldog, voiced by John Cleese, is British

From India, the planes have to fly over the Himalayas, known as "The Hump." Dusty has renewed confidence and takes the lead. He also helps El Chupacabra win over Rochelle by singing to her. Ripslinger is upset at Dusty taking over the lead and again tries to ruin his chances by destroying Dusty's navigational equipment before the hazardous flight over the Pacific. Lost in the vastness of the ocean, Dusty is saved by fighter aircraft from the US aircraft carrier "Flysinhower." These scenes with the fighters Bravo and Echo (voiced unsubtly but, have to admit, satisfactorily by Val Kilmer and Anthony Edwards - what, Tom Cruise was too busy to show up, too?) really give the animators a chance to flex their muscles and are the high point of the film. This is the type of scene where Disney being Disney, able to produce just the right stunt casting, makes all the difference.

Planes 2013

On the carrier, Dusty learns that Skipper was not quite the hero that everybody believes, having only flown one mission. While flying from the carrier to the leg's finish line in Mexico, Dusty gets caught up in a storm due to his thoughts about Skipper and crashes, but he is rescued. Skipper later tells Dusty that the one mission he flew on had been a disaster, with all the trainees under his command slaughtered by the enemy. Dusty wants to quit the race, but he has accumulated many fans and friends, and they fix him up and enable him to continue on.

Planes 2013
The "Flysinhower" fighters

The final route is from Mexico back to JFK in New York. Ripslinger still fears the young cropduster, however, and has his thugs ambush Dusty. Skipper arrives just in time, though, and saves Dusty, but Ripslinger now has a big lead. Dusty summons up the willpower to overcome his fear of heights, riding the high and fast jetstream to just nip Ripslinger at the finish line when the leader slows to have his picture taken. Dusty wins, Ripslinger crashes, and Skipper and Dusty decide to enter service on the Flysinhower and serve their country.

Planes 2013
Ishani flies by the Taj Mahal

"Planes" is colorful, full of amiable character actors such as John Cleese in the small role of Bulldog and Stacy Keach in the standard "old but wise mentor" part that infests Hollywood adventure films, from "The Karate Kid" down to "The Hunger Games." Dane Cook gamely tries to salvage something from his failing Hollywood career as Dusty and does a good job. While everybody is competent enough, there isn't a single real stand-out in the entire voice cast. Julia Louis-Dreyfus is wasted in the role of El Chupacabra's girlfriend (Chupa is played by Carlos Alazraqui), and Priyanka Chopra presumably was cast as Ishani because she sounds convincing as someone who would know valuable information about India. Strangely enough, though, Priyanka may be the most interesting thing about "Planes," which isn't exactly the greatest feat in film history. The voice cast is far from being the worst in a major animation film release, but it isn't a high point of "Planes," either.

Planes 2013
Skipper apparently is a World War II Corsair

Where "Planes" really excels is with its 3-D animation itself. There are plenty of opportunities for scenic shots of Dusty busting through the sky and performing maneuvers with his propeller aircraft as if he were an advanced jet fighter. When analyzing the impact of an animated film, never underestimate the raw power of the visuals. While the execution is pro forma and far below the heights reached by the two previous "Cars" films, the plot set-up is tailor-made for animation to work its magic, and it does. Of course, you may also get tired of endless shots of airplanes zipping around a blue sky and acting cute, but that's only likely if you've played too much Microsoft Flight Simulator back in the day.

Planes 2013
The beautiful Priyanka Chopra voices Ishani

Given the supreme flying scenes, even the mediocre-to-poor script can't sink "Planes." If you have trouble figuring out the whole story and ending of "Planes" the first time Dusty starts dreaming about becoming a racer and winning big races, well, perhaps you haven't seen too many films. The script is so weak that it almost seems as if someone at Disney simply programmed into the machine "do something with airplanes like the cars in 'Cars,' but this time make our hero more like Luke Skywalker" and hit a button, resulting in a story of a downtrodden young man so full of ability but just not with any opportunity to show the world how wonderful he truly is. If that basic story hasn't been done a hundred times in Hollywood, it's pretty darn close. It's the male version of "Cinderella." Perfunctory nods to classics of the aircraft genre such as "Top Gun" are spit out by the computer as well.

Planes 2013
A preview of "Planes: Fire and Rescue"

"Planes" somehow turned a nice profit during its theatrical release despite coming in not first, not second, but third during its opening weekend. Overseas audiences did the trick, which is perhaps understandable given the cosmopolitan settings of "Planes." For a film produced for the direct-to-video market, that is an astonishing success. Never, ever doubt the lingering power of a successful franchise. A sequel, "Planes: Fire and Rescue," is being prepared for a July 18, 2014 release, and if that quick turn-around time gives you pause about just how good the sequel could possibly be, well, it should. The budget for "Planes" was light, which is what kept it profitable, and Disney is unlikely to tamper with that winning formula for the sequel.

"Planes: Fire & Rescue" is the sequel, and it has a release date of July 18, 2014. You can see the trailer for the sequel here.

Below is the trailer for "Planes," and a "Planes" 3-pack already is available. You may also see some other videos and other promotional material we previously assembled for "Planes" by clicking here. Disney's "Planes" takes flight to Blu-ray Combo Pack and Digital HD on November 19 2013, and the trailer for that release also is below.
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