It would appear that the Marvel approach to moviemaking is really seeping into the culture at Disney. Marvel has taken on the challenge of maintaining separate character franchises with the intent to occasionally bring them together into a single movie.
Now, with Planes, Disney is two-thirds of the way to having the parts for the animated remake of Planes, Trains and Automobiles everybody has been begging for.
For the second time, a Pixar sequel has begun life as a direct-to-video trifle and then so impressed studio executives that it got itself promoted to full-blown theatrical release. The last time was Toy Story 2 and the decision proved entirely justified. This time around, while Planes is by no means bad, it would have been a very good direct-to-video title as opposed to a mediocre theatrical release.
Superficially, Cars and Planes are very similar, with the major characters from the former having doppelgangers in the latter. Lightning McQueen becomes Dusty Crophopper (Dane Cook) a cropdusting plane with dreams of winning an around-the-world race. Tow Mater is now a fuel truck named Chug (Brad Garrett). Doc Hudson becomes Skipper Riley (Stacy Keach), a World War II-era Corsair with plenty of wisdom to share with a brash young athlete and who eventually needs to do something he hasn't done in a long time. Sally Carerra doesn't so much get moved over to the new movie, but that may be because it is aimed at a younger audience and so romance it generally moved to a secondary storyline.
Both also come down to a big race against an unprincipled opponent. The morals of the story, however, are very different. Whereas Cars was about teaching Lightning McQueen how to win with humility and that winning isn't everything, Planes is about persevering in your dream regardless of external doubters and real obstacles you run into. Dusty is a plane built for slow speeds at low altitudes who wants to go up against actual racing planes.
In theory, that's a good message. In practice, it is one that doesn't entirely make sense within the world presented. Dusty isn't shown figuring out a winning strategy that makes use of his limitations; he simply wills himself to go faster—which is kind of like my Prius deciding it will win the Indianapolis 500 and doing so because it got better at turning left. The idea that all of mankind starts out equal and therefore we should not to let others define our limits is noble... unless that first part is demonstrably untrue. Staying in world, what if a train decides its dream is go somewhere without tracks (for this reason, when The Little Mermaid is remade in the Cars universe I assume Ariel will be a train who wishes she had tires).
That, however, is going much deeper into the weeds than the movie really wants or deserves. From a kid entertainment point of view, it has a lot of airplane race action that will thrill. The story is too simple to really pull in most of the adult audience, but the beats will be new for the kids. If you go and see it in the theater, any kid in the grips of mechanical fascination will love it—but they also probably won't mind waiting for the DVD as was originally the plan.
And Thomas the Tank Engine should watch out. Disney may be coming after him for that remake.
- Planes is a Walt Disney Pictures release.
- Wide theatrical release on Friday, August 9, 2013
- Directed by Klay Hall
- Written by Jeffrey M. Howard
- Starring: Dane Cook, Stacy Keach, Brad Garrett, Teri Hatcher
- Running time: 92 minutes
- Rated PG for some mild action and rude humor
- Alex's rating: 6 out of 10
And because the metaphysics of the Cars universe is oddly fascinating to me, if completely irrelevant to this review, here are some questions for a book club discussion. I figure that such questions had to have been discussed over after-work cervezas and a plate of steak nachos at Los Cantaros Taqueria next to the Pixar campus:
- Though at first you might wonder why exactly they'd be growing corn that needs cropdusting, it is explained that they turn it into biofuel. OK, but why do they know what a quesadilla is?
- At one point there is a joke about two people having once been a single character that was separated at birth. How does birth work in this world?
- Throughout the movie there are references to the characters having been "made." Are the characters aware of who is making them, where they are made, and the intent of whoever is making them? Also, how does this interplay with the previous birth question? Is the cars Pope from Cars 2 in communication with the head of GM or something more ethereal?
- For a while I thought there might be a romance angle between Dusty Crophopper (an airplane) and his mechanic, Dottie (a forklift voiced by Teri Hatcher). If that had happened, should we be supportive or dubious? Is that how Franz, a German flying car, came about?
- Speaking of forklifts, who'd have guessed that they'd end up running the world just because they have something easily animated as the equivalent of hands?
- Through the movie, much of Dusty's hardware gets replaced for various reasons. Where does Dusty's consciousness reside, and how much of him can be replaced without losing that consciousness?
- What purpose does fuel serve? It is a food equivalent in that it is necessary to continue existing, or simply necessary for movement? Skipper hasn't flown in decades and gets pushed around by a forklift. Is he still using fuel?
- We see an airliner that was apparently made wth a small passenger loading door up near the cockpit. Why is that door there when we are shown everybody boarding via a ramp in the back? Also, how much trust does that plane have to have? It has absolutely no idea what they're doing back there.
- Finally, who built the Mayan pyramids seen in Mexico?