Letter From The Editor - Issue 69 - June 2019

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At The Picture Show
August 2013


Planes, trains and autopilot

Animated movies don't get any lazier than 'Planes'

Walt Disney Studios
Director: Klay Hall
Screenplay: Jeffrey M. Howard
Starring: The voices of Dane Cook, Brad Garrett, Roger Craig Smith, Teri Hatcher, Stacy Keach, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Priyanka Chopra, John Cleese and Cedric the Entertainer
Rated PG / 1 hour, 31 minutes
August 9, 2013
(out of four)

This is why everyone started hating you, Disney. This right here. Movies like Planes. Perfunctory, no-imagination, brand-name-milking, lazy pieces of Assembly Line Animation Product that no one wanted or asked for in the first place. Movies like this - straight-to-video sequels, prequels and spinoffs - are why your reputation as the gold standard of animated cinema died long, long ago.

Oh, I know, technically this movie didn't go direct to video. It arrived in 3,000 theatres, as if that makes it a legitimate movie or something. But if college dropouts can still earn honorary degrees, then surely a movie like this can get honorary direct-to-DVD status. It's earned it. Just like so many of your other theatrical releases from the 2000s earned it. But we thought you were past this, we really did. I mean, the cheap video sequel thing is probably a habit you can't break at this point, but a bottom-of-the-barrel theatrical feature? Somehow, after a comeback of sorts over the last few years - The Princess and the Frog, Tangled, Wreck-It Ralph - you've doubled down on your former artistic bankruptcy and reached what may be the historical nadir of Disney theatrical animation.

Yes, it's that bad. In fact, a bit of cursory research reveals that the film wasn't even produced by Walt Disney Studios, but by its DisneyToon shingle, which specializes in low-rent sequels and hasn't had a theatrical release in eight years. (Among their produced titles? Cinderella III: A Twist in Time, Tinker Bell and the Great Fairy Rescue and the blasphemous The Fox and the Hound 2.)

Spinning off an aerial version of Pixar's weakest property - Cars - was an odd idea in the first place, an endeavor seemingly better suited to selling toys than creating quality entertainment. (See also: Cars 2.) But the result is nothing less than an embarrassment, one without a single memorable character, scene, or joke, and with a brand of animation sure to inspire anyone out there who aspires toward adequacy. (Despite the connection to a Pixar brand, I doubt John Lasseter or the creative braintrust of Pixar had much to do with the film itself.) There is exactly one (1) moment in the film that garnered a modest chuckle from yours truly. So we'll give credit where it's due - that one joke in that one scene is kind of decent. My affections end there.

Planes plays out like a combination of both Cars movies and last month's Turbo. A cropduster (voiced by Dane Cook) dreams of racing glory, despite the protestations of his boss, Leadbottom (Cedric the Entertainer), and despite the fact that, having never gone above a couple hundred feet, he's terrified of heights. (Hilarious!)

When the story opens, the soon-to-be-named Dusty Crophopper is preparing to compete in a qualifier for an annual round-the-world race (Wings Across the World), a sort of Grand Prix for prop planes. He's supported by his best friend, a fuel truck named Chug (Brad Garrett). Then there's Dottie (Teri Hatcher), a tiny purple forklift who is at first very upset and worried that Dusty plans to compete in the race, but who quickly changes her tune for no reason whatsoever. In order to learn how to fly and find courage and follow his dreams and stuff, he commissions the help of the legendary and mysterious old Navy war plane, Skipper Riley (Stacy Keach), a direct ripoff Cars' Doc Hudson.

In a plot development that screams "we needed to pad the runtime," Dusty fails to qualify, but then gets in anyway when one of the other competitors is disqualified for a rules violation. And so Dusty's quest for racing glory begins, alongside a bunch of all too culturally specific planes who are either kind, mean, friendly, distant, helpful or harmful, depending on what function the plot requires at any given moment.

Even the initial fear-of-heights gag is lazily executed; it's never milked for the absurdity of the premise, but utilized as a plot point and nothing more. That goes double for the rest of the movie. "Character arcs" begin one scene and conclude just moments later. Plot twists intrude on the characters' lives but have no long-standing effects, instead being tossed aside so the subplots can neatly resolve themselves. Rivalries are formed and quickly end, betrayals occur and are quickly forgiven. There seems to be no effort on the part of screenwriter Jeffrey M. Howard and director Klay Hall (Tinker Bell and the Lost Treasure) to sustain anything beyond a couple of scenes. This is a movie meant to distract children, not entertain them.

Read more by Chris Bellamy

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