Dusty is a cropduster destined to do nothing more than fly back and forth over fields for the rest of his life. But he dreams of becoming a racing plane. Despite only getting support from his slightly loopy fuel truck friend, Dusty decides to enter the Wings Across the World race. After barely getting through the qualifiers, he’s off to see the world and fly against real racers where he hopes to prove despite long odds that he can be more than he was made for.

planes1It’s easy to see why Disney opted for a theatrical release for Planes over the straight-to-home-video plan they originally had in place. The overall production is slick and much more evolved than the typical home video fare. With a cursory viewing the film looks like it could have been created right along side Cars or Cars 2. However, after a more careful look under the hood there are signs of the film’s direct-to-video origins. The most obvious is how clean and new everything appears. Adding age and wear-and-tear to digital objects to make an animated world appear real and lived in takes time, effort, and money that bigger productions with more resources (and more meticulous directors) can afford. This isn’t meant as a knock on the film, since its makers presumably thought they were going to be shown on the small screen and were probably not given a big screen budget.

While the animation can pass for theatrical, story-wise things definitely could have used more polish. For all but the youngest viewers the entire film will be completely predictable. Perhaps in a bid to woo back the interest of the older crowd the film strives to be as accurate as possible in its depiction of aviation — from the use of terminology to tactics and methodology. However, unless you’re a flight technology buff to begin with, this gets old and boring very quickly. Things don’t get much better as we’re then treated to an embarrassing musical number and a serious subplot that feels out of place with the tone of the rest of the movie. Two last points I almost hate to bring up, but I just can’t ignore. First, I know this is from the world of Cars, but racing again? Was there nothing else we could have done with planes but more racing? And second, really? A cropduster able to outfly any of these other planes? At least in DreamWorks Turbo we weren’t asked to believe that an unmodified snail was capable of beating a racecar!

The actors hired were drawn mostly from the ranks of TV performers, comedians, and voice actors — another sign of the home video history of the project. Again giving them the benefit of the doubt, it’s possible when recording they didn’t know the film would be screened theatrically. For the most part the acting feels very clichéd. While a large part of that has to be put down to the writing of the characters, too often the actors use accents and stereotypes to take the place of creating original characterizations.

The film is mildly amusing. Kids ten and under that aren’t captivated with it will at the very least be diverted for ninety minutes. But in an already crowded summer animation season maybe they should have stuck to the flight plan and sent this straight to home video.

Animated Classic or Back To The Drawing Board?

August 2, 2013
92 minutes
Rated PG
directed by Klay Hall