Planes Review

As empty as the driverless vehicles

I remember the bemusement when Pixar announced Cars 2. Well, expectations should be lowered even further for Planes, a sort of spinoff now in the hands (wings?) of Disney. It was originally planned for a straight-to-DVD release, and a sequel is already set for July 2014. Yes, a follow-up is only 11 months away.
Like Cars, the Planes universe consists of talking vehicles that exist without any evidence of mankind – apart from being man-made, of course. Each plane has a face and gives the impression of floating heads on wheels. Yet, despite the surreal environment, it all seems rather, well, plain.
The main story itself is symptomatic of the film’s lack of originality. Dusty (voiced by Dane Cook) is an unfashionable crop duster who dreams of becoming a racer, only to be held back by a phobia of heights. His friends have famous voices (Teri Hatcher, Val Kilmer, Stacy Keach, Julia Louis-Dreyfus), but little in way of personality. Instead, there’s an alarming number of racial stereotypes. For example, John Cleese is tea-drinking Bulldog, and Carlos Alazraqui plays El Chupacabra, a Mexican racer who performs a Mariachi version of “Love Machine”.

There’s never a sense of peril, which is surprisingly rare these days for children’s animation. That might tempt parents to take their very, very young children who will probably appreciate the novelty of 3D planes soaring around. It’s also a snoozer for anyone over the age of six; the repetition is maddening, and the 92 minutes last for an eternity.
It’s uncertain how much effort is made to keep parents entertained. Everything signals to cashing in on merchandise (mentioning Cars in adverts, the inevitable toys, a 2014 sequel already announced etc). Not everything can be as universally appealing as WALL-E or Toy Story. Yet it’s uncomfortable when a few adult references are formulaically tossed in. At least, I doubt 5-year-olds will knowingly nod at the Top Gun references, or cackle at the “sexy” female plane who once modelled for Airports Illustrated. (When El Chupacabra spots her, he remarks, “Look at that propeller!”)
Planes isn’t for kids who dream of becoming pilots. It’s for kids who dream of being the planes themselves. It’s a flimsy premise with bland characters slotted into a tiresome structure. The only curveball is the downright creepiness of an airline carrier with blinking eyeballs. So, yes, Planes is as empty as the driverless vehicles.

Nick Chen

Updated: Aug 12, 2013

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