Here’s what I can’t get my head around. Pixar has built a reputation on generally strong choices. It’s been careful what films it associates with its brand, and it made its place in the world by standing on the shoulders of others and making its mark from there. The Cars films, to be fair, are the least liked of Pixar’s output, but at the very least, the animation is quite staggering in places. Even in their weaker moments, there are Pixar hallmarks to be found.
Meanwhile, when John Lasseter began overseeing Walt Disney Animation Studios, one of his first and most popular acts was to kill off the direct-to-DVD sequels that were pillaging the Disney classic back catalogue in the name of a few easy quid.
So how did we end up with Planes? It’s a film from the world of Pixar’s Cars, but conversely, not a film made by Pixar, nor one that it’s seemingly willing to put its name on. It feels a little as if the Disney brand is allowed to be used to pump out the second grade stuff then, which is ironic, given that Walt Disney Animation Studios’ output has been better than Pixar’s for a good year or two.
Furthermore, if Pixar really wanted to do Planes, and expand the Cars world (understandable, given the billions in toy revenue it generates), then why not do it properly? Why not pump some strong investment into it? As it stands, we’ve got Planes, an already-in-the-works Planes 2, and the same ticket price charge you’d get for taking your kids to see Monsters University or Despicable Me 2. Both of which offer much better value.
To be fair, Disney has had some success with low-profile Tinkerbell movies heading to cinemas, which hit a young niche before speeding their way to DVD and Blu-ray. I’ve a young daughter, and I duly took her to see the last one. It wasn’t great, but it had charm, a bit of style, and was generally quite good fun.
Planes, though, is flat. Save for one or two sequences, this feels ordinary and bland from the opening flying sequence, through to the race that dominates most of the film’s running time. It really feels as though it’s a film where economies have been made. Backgrounds are either static, non-existent or uninteresting (save for the occasional cityscape). Characters stand in the foreground talking to each other, occupying the front and centre of the frame time after time. Were the characters humans rather than planes, it’d feel like they were just standing there, with their hands by their sides. But the planes are primarily static machines, who talk to each other.
What do they talk about? Well, the mechanics of a plot built on the same sketchpad that contained the planning list for Cars. In this case, instead of the protagonist being cocky, it’s a crop spraying plane who’s lacking in confidence but dreams of racing. There is, naturally enough, a sage old timer to help, everyone laughing at the idea of a crop plane entering a big race, and lots of sage advice being given out, and morals being taught.
But there’s what it lacks. It lacks much style. It lacks the energy of the races of the Cars movie. It lacks characters you particularly want to root for. And it lacks a compelling reason to put the Cars Blu-ray away and take youngsters to the cinema to see it.
Planes was originally planned, just like Toy Story 2, as a direct-to-DVD sequel. When all concerned saw how Toy Story 2 was shaping up, the decision was made for a theatrical release. It’s somewhat puzzling to think that the same meeting could have taken place here. Planes isn’t awful, it’s just drab and ordinary. Crucially, it’s drab and ordinary at a time when films for under 10s are exciting, colourful and interesting. And while there’s enough here to suggest that Simpsons alumnus Klay Hall will go on to direct better features (such as his previous effort, Tinker Bell And The Lost Treasure), Planes is not a career high for anyone involved.
As it stands, Planes is a DVD movie that snuck into cinemas while nobody was watching. Security should be called forthwith.
Planes is out in UK cinemas on the 16th August.
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