"Why hello ladies... You ready to lose?"
Pixar's least original film, Cars, at least came from a wholesome place. Director John Lasseter was inspired to make the film after traveling cross country with his family on Route 66. It doesn't completely excuse the fact that the plot of the film was ripped off almost wholesale from the Michael J. Fox film Doc Hollywood, but at least the road to the film was paved with good intentions.
It's virtually impossible to say the same about the new Disney Toons' animated spinoff Planes, which plays like a ninety two minute cross between a Saturday morning cartoon & a commercial for all the toys your kids are going to want you to buy when you leave the theater. If the plot weren't so by-the-numbers obvious and had the jokes aimed slightly higher than various aviation puns, it might have been a worthy successor to the much maligned franchise, but instead, it fails to take off (Okay, I promise, that will be the first and only pun in this review).
Dusty Crophopper (Dane Cook) is a crop dusting plane from Propwash Junction that dreams of one day competing in the Wings Around The Globe rally. His only problem is, he's a crop dusting plane. After placing sixth in a qualifying race, his dreams seem to be squashed, but after another plane is disqualified, Dusty gets to live his dream and fly in the big race. Populated with various stereotypes, I mean planes from around the globe like El Chupacabra (Carlos Alazraqui), Bulldog (John Cleese) and the perennial favorite Ripslinger (Roger Craig Smith), his dreams seem like they're never going to achieve lift off (I promise, that's the last one).
Inspired by his plot device coach-with-a-dark-past Skipper (Stacy Keach) and his misfit automobile friends Chug (Brad Garrett) & Dottie (Teri Hatcher), Dusty goes from underdog to front-runner just long enough to backslide. As the race intensifies, the odds seem hopelessly stacked against Dusty, but his friends, old and new, put a tailwind under him that may just propel him to victory (I have a problem, I might not be able to stop now).
The Cars films sort of lived and died on two things, children's love of cars & the hackneyed shenanigans of Larry the Cable Guy as Mater. Your enjoyment, or at the very least your children's enjoyment, of the films is in direct correlation to your tolerance for those things. But Planes is already at a disadvantage because it just doesn't have the built-in appeal those films provided. It's about propellor planes, something virtually none of the children I know give a rat's ass about, and it's voice cast is a veritable who's who of second and third choices for seemingly every role (including the famous last-minute replacement of star Jon Cryer with Cook).
The film is a mildly amusing diversion (incredibly mild... like white bread mild) that utilizes the underdog formula, once again, which was used to much better effect mere weeks ago with Turbo. The packed house at the screening my daughters and I attended today leads me to believe that this film will fare better than Turbo did, but unfairly so as that film actually subverted expectations and played out in a more interesting way than this one does. It's always a tad disappointing to me when people, especially families, turn a cold shoulder to originality in favor of familiar brands.
I'm at least heartened by the fact that there were only a few chuckles at the obvious and awful humor this film was populated with, though this audience may have been an anomaly. I'm similarly bothered by a subplot in which the film's Mater surrogate Chug begins to make a ton of money by selling Dusty paraphernalia. It's as if the film is goading children into begging their parents to take them to Wal-Mart after the film is over to load up on similar nonsense. It's one thing to merchandise your movie, it's another to turn it into a part of the plot of the film.
As I mentioned earlier, the voice cast is fine, but everyone feels like they weren't the first choice for the role. There are some decent actors such as Cleese, Alazraqui, Hatcher, Garrett, Keach and Julia-Louis Dreyfus, but I never would have known it were any of them without reading it in the credits. In fact, Anthony Edwards and Val Kilmer also voice characters, making this a Top Gun reunion of sorts, but again, never would have figured that out.
And while we're on the subject of Top Gun, the film opens with a song that is eerily reminiscent of that film's Kenny Loggins anthem "Highway to the Danger Zone," but turns out to be some knock-off song I couldn't even remember well enough to look up the credits for. It's just indicative to me of the fact that Disney wasn't even willing to shell out money for the original. I know that films are a business, now more than ever, but they're just being so patently obvious about trying to get a maximum return on as little investment as possible that it makes the whole film feel even more shallow and cheap as a result.
There are plenty of other things I could get easily bogged down with, such as what on earth commuter-sized airliners would be doing in a world devoid of people. I can at least get the crop dusting corn because it's used for ethanol thing, but how on earth would a plane operate an iPad (or Flypad as it's called here)? There are just far too many lazy inconsistencies in the film for me to even give it another thought.
Even my daughters, who are easily entertained, didn't laugh much, if at all, and seemed horrendously bored at times. When your film fails to even entertain its core audience, it's a true indictment of how much you're selling a product and not making a film. I hate to be so harsh on a film like this, but it deserves such treatment. It was as shameless a cash grab as I've ever laid eyes on, and hopefully other parents will be savvy enough to recognize that. I've never been more worried that they won't, however.
GO Rating: 1.5/5
[Photos via BoxOfficeMojo]