Rating: (For Television Viewing) BB/ 60%
Summary: It’s A Plane, Indeed, But no Pixar. It’s A below Average Disney Theatre Release That Was Meant for Television, Where It Manages to Be Passable… I Saw It on TV.
Director: Klay Hall
Planes, Walt Disney Pictures’ spinoff to Disney Pixar’s Oscar-nominated 2006 venture ‘Cars’, takes place ‘above the world of cars’, according to the film’s tagline. As the film involves planes, it’s obviously set in the expanse of the skies. When Alfonso Cuarón to set his latest film ‘Gravity’ in space, certainly ‘far above the world of planes’, he envisioned something mighty to do justice to the backdrop. Planes, on the other hand, flies safely and steadily from its take-off to its landing without having a vision to do justice to the skies or its studios.
When Disney bought Pixar, the collaboration engendered some of the most illustrious, adventurous and memorable animated films in history. Each film had a common core audience: kids. But the family values infused in their stories along-with the top-notch animation gave Pixar a universal audience, and so may find even a fifty-year old war veteran possessing a DVD of Wall-E or Up! What differentiates Pixar from the studios such as Dreamworks (which is now picking up greatly in terms of the quality of its storytelling, especially with films such as Kung Fu Panda 2 and How to Train Your Dragon) is the ‘Pixar moments’.
You see this in every great Pixar film.
In Ratatouille, it comes when Anton Ego takes a bite of Remy’s Ratatouille and is taken back to nostalgic memories from his childhood. In Up, which has some of the most emotionally intense moments of any Pixar film, it comes when old man Carl finally gets to Paradise Falls, sits down on his favorite couch and opens Ellie’s Adventure Book. In Monsters University, which is one of the weaker Pixar efforts, it comes towards the end when Mike finds out about his teammate Sullivan’s skullduggery in winning the Scare Games. These are moments of profundity which successfully round up everything which the film wants to convey and elevate it to a status where we take not only the animation but also the film’s storytelling with seriousness. It is Pixar’s achievement.
Planes lands after its 90 minute travel with not even one Pixar moment to boast of.
The film is an underdog story with a universally accepted (therefore predictable) message that ‘One should never stop dreaming’. A great underdog story with far more originality, fun, wit and snazzy and panache was Gore Verbinski’s Oscar winning non-Pixar film Rango. That was about Rango, a pet chameleon, who becomes a county sheriff after accidently killing off a dreaded predator tormenting the county’s inhabitants. This is about Dusty, a crop-duster (planes commonly used for spraying insecticides over crops) with admirable flying skills who qualify for the ‘Wings Across the World’ racing championship, to everyone’s surprise, after the plane ahead of him in the qualifier is disqualified for using ‘illegal fuel enhancements’ (an obvious reference to the smartass steroid-users in sports).
Dusty is a rookie, albeit a passionate one. In the film’s opening scene, we see him flying at lightning speed alongside fighter jets, only to learn it’s one of his daydreams. He hates his current job and trains himself to become a racer by following the guidelines in ‘Air Racing for Dummies’ (another easy reference). He has only one pal Chug, the fuel truck, to support him; his forklift mechanic pal Dottie thinks he’s gone crazy. In Cars, Lightning McQueen’s companion Mater proved to be so memorable that he got an entire sequel – ‘Cars 2’ – for himself. Chug, on the other hand, is so unmemorable I had to hunt down Wikipedia to get his name. There is absolutely nothing distinctive about most of the ensemble in Planes. There’s Doc Hudson’s poor man Skipper, an unapproachable World War veteran with a secret, who trains Dusty for the championship. There is a forklift named what? (checking Wikipedia)… Dottie who warns him about his over-ambitious dreams.
Once Dusty reaches the event, he finds himself pitted against an assortment of world-class planes from different cultures (!): there’s 1) a plane representing Asia named Ishani, voiced by Indian actress Priyanka Chopra, who is one of the few characters I would want in the planned sequel 2) Ripslinger, a brash former champion whose green paint coating might remind us of Car’s antagonist Chick Hicks but whose attitude and characterization makes him seem like a wannabe villain 3) Bulldog, a pompous English veteran racer who’s vaguely similar to retiring veteran Strip Weathers from Cars 4) Rochelle, a petulant French-Canadian plane and 5) El Chupacabra, a horny Mexican (STEREOTYPE!!) plane who has hots for her. A multi-cultural environment means you get scenes highlighting some aspect about each culture. Here we get a pretty Americanized perception about everybody. Ishani being ‘The Indian’ is mysterious, with a ridiculous sitar sound playing during her scenes. She shows him the Taj Mahal, one of the Seven Wonders of the World situated in Agra, on their way to the Himalayas. The Taj Mahal we see here is again a mysterious structure standing in the middle of lush verdurous scenery instead of the tourist spot it actually is. The major question that ran in my mind was “Who was its maker?”. Neither cars nor planes nor trucks nor trains have hands, and forklifts are too tiny to build structures so huge. Monsters and Robots could but not these machines. It’s a question that’s been running in my mind ever since I saw the stadiums and buildings in Cars. Probably the mightiness and ‘mystery’ of Taj Mahal really got me wondering how many liberties these films could take.
Here, another liberty. The film, unlike most Pixar and Disney stories we are familiar with, is the first to have the narrative haphazardness characteristic of masala Bollywood films. In masala Bollywood, you’d get to hear things like: ‘The film has a mix of everything: drama, action, comedy, romance!!’ and the makers keep their promise by stuffing portions of everything into these critical turkeys but box-office glories. In Planes, you get a dose of tired gags from the supporting cast between every flight. At one point, the film unexpectedly brings in a romantic courtship scene between El Chupacabra and Rochelle. When Dusty and Ishani fly around Taj Mahal, you’ll recognize the tune of ‘Dam Dara Dam Dara Mast Mast’ playing in the background especially if you’re an Indian and/or a big fan of Indian films and music. No problems here, and I like the fact other cultures are being explored, but the song choice is poor and only inserted because ‘she’s the Indian girl, remember. So, nothing but Indian music’. And the lyrics are just too romantic to be placed so early into the film unless they are Romeo and Juliet, which they are NOT.
The film is best suited for television, the medium it was originally intended for before Disney and Pixar got greedy and released it in theatres worldwide as part of Disneytoons Studios. . In fact, John Lassetter, the executive producer who wrote the concept of Planes, was the director of Cars, and traces of the latter film are seen so often in this film I had to remind myself twice that the director of Planes wasn’t Lassetter but Klay Hall (Tinkerbell and the Lost Treasure). The animation is not at par with the best of Disney-Pixar and there isn’t much uniqueness in the story or the characters.
Fortunately, I saw it on VOD at home, where it just manages to be passable. Lucky Plane!