Not many adult Pixar fans include Cars on their list of favorites, probably because it was a more obvious attempt to sell toys than even their movies about toys were, so it was only me, the airplane fan, who got excited over Planes. Now a Pixar-less Disney franchise, my big concern that Planes would turn out to be Cars with planes and therefore a big cynical marketing ploy.
A cropdusting plane with a fear of heights competes in a round-the-world race to show everyone that it’s not what you’re made for but what you’re made of that matters.
Now that I’ve seen it, I can tell you that it is Cars with planes, but it’s also Cars 2 with planes, Speed Racer with planes, the pod racing subplot of Star Wars Episode I with planes, and of course Top Gun with (animated) planes. In other words, it’s different enough not to be a total insult to the audience. Plus it’s really, really cute.
Planes opens with my favorite scene: Dusty Crophopper (Dane Cook) daydreaming that he’s racing against two F-14 fighter jets. Their names are Echo and Bravo and they’re voiced by Anthony Edwards and Val Kilmer (Goose and Iceman from Top Gun, for those of you who don’t know plane movies). Echo and Bravo belong to the Jolly Wrenches (a play on the real Jolly Rogers squadron), which Dusty’s crusty old neighbor Skipper used to fly for in World War II. The Wrenches are based on the adorable USS Flysenhower aircraft carrier.
OMG – IT’S WEARING A HAT
Dusty’s a crop dusting plane but he dreams of being a racer. In an opening act strikingly similar to Cars, Dusty convinces bitter, washed up Skipper (Stacy Keach) to train him and has a dumb fuel truck named Chug (Brad Garrett) for a best friend. Dottie the forklift (Teri Hatcher) is his mechanic/voice of reason, similar to the Sally Carrera character – right down to the coloring. This team attempts to train Dusty to win the Wings Around the World race, but there’s a problem: Dusty is afraid of heights. This is represented by the fact that he stalls out at high altitudes
Should he be tumbling back to earth like that?
A plane with a fear of heights is pretty silly and also kind of clichéd, in that heroes always seem to have some sort of handicap/fear/issue to get over before they can be all they can be. It would also force him to use a LOT more fuel than the other racers because of the higher air pressure at low altitudes. But I’m going to let them get away with it, because I recognize it for the shrewd filmmaking decision that it is. They were smart enough to recognize that:
Planes flying along in the empty sky = boring
Planes dodging obstacles close to the ground = exciting
Add their excellent knowledge of planes and flight maneuvers to the fact that they have Dusty zooming along a few feet above the ground, and you’ve got a very fun time. Dusty doesn’t just have the obligatory jerk sports rival character (Ripslinger, voiced by Roger Craig Smith) posing a danger though sabotage and cheating but also trees, hills, rocks, and squirrelly low-level winds. By flying low, Dusty moves around a lot more and there’s more in the shot than the occasional puffy cloud.
Hey Ripslinger, I bet you won’t even need to kill me.
I bet I’ll crash into the side of a mountain all on my own!
Unfortunately, because the other racers do the sensible thing and fly higher to maximize their speed and fuel economy, Dusty doesn’t get to interact with them much unless he’s on the ground. They breeze through most of the race in map scenes and montages with only a few key scenes shown in full. This is a shame, because one of my other favorite scenes is when Dusty saves the life of Bulldog (John Cleese) a British racer who had bullied him prior to having a mechanical failure.
I’m not crying! I’ve got oil in my eye!
A love subplot is pretty much a given these days, so Dusty has his sights set on Ishani (Priyanka Chopra) a racer from India. That story is kind of boring, to tell you the truth. Dusty’s Mexican friend El Chupacabra (Carlos Alazraqui) is much funnier in his bumbling pursuit of French-Canadian racer Rochelle (Julia Louis-Dreyfus). What I really love is that there are so many international characters involved, even if the main character is an American.
“French Canadian is the language of love… in Quebec.”
But the whole ‘planes falling in love’ thing and the Cars sequels in general raises a lot of questions I can’t quite ignore while watching the movie. How do planes kiss? Can they make plane babies or do they have to order them from a factory? How can they play guitars? What do they put in their luggage? And most importantly, who built things like stairs and the Taj Mahal if there are no people in this world??
Put more thought into this, please. I don’t care if your audience is human.
But despite its problems I really enjoyed Planes. I laughed at the jokes, cooed over the cuteness of the characters, and really really wished I could have a t-shirt of the Jolly Wrenches. I saw it in a theater full of kids and most of them (except the preschoolers who couldn’t sit still for 90 minutes) were delighted, so bring yours. NOT just the boys. I’m a girl, and I love planes. Yours might too.