DIR: Klay Hall • WRI: Jeffrey M. Howard • PRO: Traci Balthazor-Flynn • ED: Jeremy Milton • CAST: Dane Cook, Stacy Keach, Priyanka Chopra, Brad Garrett
What goes up, but doesn’t come down? For a long time, the answer to that riddle could have credibly been Pixar’s reputation for excellence in animation. Following a series of successively less impressive films and a disconcerting impulse to raid its own astonishing back catalogue to cook up unlikely sequels (Monsters University, Finding Nemo 2), the once great animation powerhouse now appears as fallible and opportunistic as any other studio. Planes marks another step in the decline of its quality control, as Pixar hands over the anthropomorphised-automobile world of its 2006 film, Cars (as well as some of the character designs), to allow parent-studio Disney to create what is a rather tepid, aeronautically themed spin-off from that earlier film. This bright, but wearyingly unoriginal tale focuses on Dusty Crophopper, a cropduster plane that longs to prove itself in the high-speed world of aeronautic acrobatics in a race around the globe. With the coaching of Skipper, a World War II warplane voiced by Stacy Keach, our hero seizes the opportunity to prove that it is possible to be more than what you were designed to be. He confronts his own fear of heights and faces an international line-up of rivals, including a Latin-lover Mexican plane in the garb of a luchador (Carlos Alazraqui), a stiff-upper-lipped British plane (John Cleese) and an Indian love interest ( Priyanka Chopra). To tie in with the flight theme, there are voice cameos from Top Gun’s Val Kilmer and Anthony Edwards as two Navy jets, though this intended in-joke is a bit of a damp squib, not helped by the fact that neither actor’s voice is particularly recognisable.
Planes is not a bad film and will probably serve as a welcome 90 minutes of relief for parents looking for something to entertain children, particularly those kiddiwinks who already adore Cars. There isn’t anything here, however, to amuse adult chaperones. A good indication of the haemorrhaging of quality in this Cars-lite is the fact that whereas Lightning McQueen was voiced by the eccentric and interesting Owen Wilson, Dusty Crophopper is voiced by the bland Dane Cook. More problematic is the absence of the wealth of detail one would expect from even the worst Pixar film. There is no sign of the wit and invention which were the hallmarks of Pixar in its first ten years, and are evident even in Disney’s own premium animated fare, such as Tangled. Like Planes’ acrophobic hero, Disney isn’t willing to scale the heights to produce something original, but rather simply coasts on the no-brainer, sure-thing jetstream that must have been felt in whichever office or boardroom this spin-off was first mooted.
Rated G (see IFCO website for details)
Planes is released on 16th August 2013