Sunday, August 11, 2013

Movie Review: Planes

Do you like Ratatouille, Cars, and Herbie: Fully Loaded?  Have you ever thought to yourself, "Gee, I wish I could watch all of these movies at the same time?"  Well, have I got the film for you!

Wait...didn't I write this review already?

Let's not beat around the bush here, folks.  Disney's Planes, courtesy of former "cheapquel" machine DisneyToon Studios, is pretty much exactly the movie you think it is.  It's quite pretty but definitely below the visual standards of Pixar's parent franchise from which it stems.  It's story doesn't really do too much to surprise you.  And the cliches.  Hoo boy, the cliches!  Make a list of all of the standard "underdog-from-humble-origins-enters-the-big-race" cliches and I can pretty much guarantee you'll see them all in this film.  That Planes shares a premise so incredibly similar to Dreamworks Animation's recently released Turbo doesn't help either, since it means audiences already saw this familiar formula just a few weeks earlier.

But here's the kicker:  Planes isn't really a bad movie.  In fact, it's actually pretty okay.  It beats the pants off Cars 2, that's for sure.  Oh sure, it's not a masterpiece by any means and its origins as a direct-to-DVD film are apparent throughout, particularly in the first act of the story.  But while Cars 2 strayed so far from the original Cars that it ended up a rather cold and sour experience, Planes adheres much more closely to the tone of its source material and is all the better for it.  Planes may be overly familiar, but it's also charming, at times exciting, and surprisingly easy to watch.

There are two main things that help Planes get off the ground, so to speak.  First, it features a charismatic voice cast that manages to breath enough life into the film's characters that you're willing to forget how formulaic they are.  Dane Cook delivers a perfectly everyman-esque performance as Dusty Crophopper, our main protagonist and stand-in for Lightning McQueen.  Effectively splitting the role of Mater in half, Brad Garrett and Carlos Alazraqui both do a fine job providing comic relief as fuel truck Chug and over-the-top Mexican plane El Chupacabra, respectively.  John Cleese turns in an enjoyably hammy performance as Bulldog, a snobby British racer.  Fans of Sonic the Hedgehog will no doubt enjoy hearing Roger Craig Smith's voice as villain Ripslinger, as well as a number of various other background characters.  Even John Ratzenburger lends his voice to a minor role, carrying on a Pixar tradition despite said studio not being the one responsible for this film.  It's a fun cast of characters that's easy to enjoy throughout.

The second thing that helps Planes rise above low expectations is that the "big race" so typical of these types of films actually ends up taking up most of the screen time instead of just the last twenty minutes as per the norm.  The first act of the movie is riddled with yawn-inducing training montages and the like, but Planes wraps up these obligatory scenes rather hastily and quickly ventures into much more interesting territory once the round-the-world race begins.  Here the scope of the movie is expanded greatly and the various portions of the race allow the film some freedom to offer more inventive sequences.  An extended set-piece at sea during a fierce storm is especially exhilarating.  In a way, it almost feels like the filmmakers played their trump card a little too early, as the story settles firmly back into familiar territory for its almost nauseatingly cliched finale.  It's a shame the momentum built up during the middle of the film couldn't carry through to the conclusion.

Even so, Planes still manages to stand out above the usual forgettable fare produced by DisneyToon Studios, even managing to provide a better overall experience than Pixar's own follow-up to Cars.  If you are really sick and tired of racing film cliches, you might have a little trouble looking past how many of them are on display here.  And if, even three films into the franchise, you're still hung up on the implausibility of a universe full of living means of transportation, Planes won't do much to strengthen the credibility of the World of Cars.  But, if you're willing to give it a chance and are simply looking for an hour and a half of solid animated entertainment, you just might find out that Planes is far more tolerable than you expected.

In fact, you might even manage to enjoy yourself.

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