It’s hard not to be cynical of Disney’s Planes, an animated adventure set in the world of Pixar’s Cars – after all, here’s yet another obvious attempt to cash in on the success of a recognised label while also kick-starting a whole new range of aeronautical toys. With its significantly reduced budget (Cars 2 had a budget of $200 million whereas the Mouse House coasts along with only $50 million this time around), Planes was intended to be a direct-to-video release but the studio ultimately opted for the full theatrical treat.
It’s easy to see why; there are some impressive high and low-flying sequences on display, and the plot about a cropduster named Dusty (Dane Cook) who dreams of becoming a racer in the famous Wings Across the World race hits all the hallmarks of the classic underdog storyline. Hackneyed cliché as it is, it’s still a perfectly fine, uplifting story with a strong message about pursuing your dreams and a side of ‘facing your fears’ too.
Appropriately, there’s a colourful cast of supporting characters, such as the luchador-themed racing plane El Chupacabra (Carlos Alazraqui) whose fiery spirit cannot be contained. John Cleese also brings his voice to the table as Bulldog, and Stacy Keach puts in a weathered turn as a former war fighter and Dusty’s mentor, Skipper. Being a short film of only 91 minutes, most of these characters are reduced to racial stereotypes which some might raise their eyebrows at but it’s no worse than what you’d find in a lot of children’s programming these days.
It’s a bright and energetic crew matched by the pastel colours of the movie itself. That said, the smaller budget means that the less-equipped studio aren’t able to match Pixar’s wizardry in terms of the film’s animation or attention to detail. Many scenes frequently feature only a solitary character in frame with little of interest in the background, so it’s clear that corners were cut in order to lash out on the more impressive racing sequences.
These are generally a good time, and take advantage of 3D to vivid effect. I’ve always thought that 3D works best in animated movies or films which feature scenes of flight so Planes gets the best of both worlds in this regard. The audience of young kids who I saw the film with let out many a gasp as characters soared and dived through the globetrotting race.
It’s digestible entertainment and hardly a slog to sit through, and young ones will enjoy it – but to the discerning eye it’s plain as day that this is a familiar story told with fewer bells and whistles than you might normally expect. It’s not meritless however, as there’s fun to be had with Dusty on his journey from zero to hero.
Planes is a budget effort that takes shortcuts but is still colourful enough for kids, with worthwhile morals at heart.