Film Review: Pixar's 'Planes' fails to bring story to new heights
Richard James Havis
Director: Klay Hall
Voiced by: Dane Cook, Stacy Keach (English version)
Category: I (English and Cantonese versions)
Pixar Animation set the template for anthropomorphic-style computer-animated films back in 1995 with Toy Story. The creators of that movie imbued non-human characters with the emotions, wishes and desires of human beings, and did it with such skill that their creations made a connection with the audience.
Since then, the style has become de rigueur for Hollywood producers, who now usually attempt to elevate their animated features from romps to light dramas.
Despite the presence of long-time Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios chief creative officer John Lasseter as its executive producer, Planes falls short of this aim. Modelled on Pixar's Cars series, but actually a co-production of its sister studio DisneyToon with Prana Animation Studios, this film has the slimmest of storylines, and mechanical characters who aren't fully rounded enough to engage viewers.
Essentially it's just one big race movie with the requisite narrative tropes about accepting people for who they are, and always doing your best, squeezed in between racing scenes.
Dusty Crophopper (voiced by comedian Dane Cook) is a little crop-dusting plane who ambitiously wants to enter a prestigious round-the-world air race. Although he doesn't have the engine for this, he does have the spirit, and this encourages Skipper (Stacy Keach), an old Corsair fighter plane, to train him in the art of flying fast.
Crophopper manages to get through the heats to compete in the finals, which gives the animators the chance to create aerial locales in New York, India, China and Mexico.
A smattering of planes from around the world dot in and out of the storyline, as Crophopper tries to defend himself from the evil plots of his would-be nemesis, the conniving three-time world champ, Ripslinger (Roger Craig Smith).
Meanwhile, Crophopper is continuously hampered by his Achilles' heel: he's afraid of heights.
The story sticks rigidly to the Hollywood playbook, with the low moments, plot reversals, and scenes of triumph, adversity and togetherness seemingly having been plotted out on a graph. But although the characters and story are wafer-thin, the racing scenes are well designed, and look fabulous. The exotic vistas look impressive on the big screen, too.
Planes was originally intended for a straight-to-DVD release in the United States, but was given the nod for theatrical when Disney executives decided the finished version could go the distance.
There's a lot of talent lurking in the voice-overs, even if the performers are made to play up national and racial stereotypes most of the time.
John Cleese is almost funny as a pompous British plane, and Indian star Priyanka Chopra is sultry as female racer Ishani. Old Hollywood hand Keach plays the Corsair fighter with a measured regret, and Val Kilmer and Teri Hatcher also lend their larynxes.
There may be a lesson for animators lurking in Planes: some objects are much better suited to anthropomorphic treatments than others. Cars, with their headlights for eyes and wheels for legs, make the transition with ease. But no matter how hard the animators try, the planes never manage to appear credibly human.
Planes opens on August 22