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part of a small rebellion | by maryann johanson

Planes review: crash commercialism

Planes red light

“Good” for nothing but the electronic babysitting of toddlers and fomenting consumer desire in impressionable children for the new line of made-in-China Dusty Crophopper extruded plastic.
I’m “biast” (pro): nothing

I’m “biast” (con): hate the Cars movies, and this looked even worse

(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

As fictional world-building goes, Pixar’s Cars universe — in which machines are sentient and the evidence of departed or extinct humanity is everywhere — is perhaps the most bizarre, the most disturbing, and the least credible in the annals of science fantasy. It asks us to suspend disbelief hurtling in from multiple directions… and all so that we may be subjected to mechanical vehicles portrayed as (human) gender and ethnic stereotypes acting out a “humorous” story rife with tired clichés.

Maybe this is why humanity escaped the planet or just died in despair: because we saw what we had wrought in our constructs, reflecting the cheapest, laziest, most predictably small-minded we can be, and simply couldn’t bear it.

This franchise started out in ways less than auspicious: Cars was Pixar’s contractual-obligation movie, and it felt like little more than a pre-fab ad campaign for new toys. It was the only awful Pixar movie until Cars 2, which was worse. And now we have Planes, which is like a prank pulled by the same sort of trickster god who would invent talking automobiles who believe they are male or female. It’s not a Pixar production. Disney originally intended Planes to go direct to DVD, acknowledging up front that this is the kind of schlock that’s “good” for nothing but the electronic babysitting of toddlers and fomenting consumer desire in impressionable children for the new extruded plastic Dusty Crophopper toys that factories in China manned by desperate people working 16-hour shifts are producing from the last of the easily accessible oil. The kiddies will be demanding them, because they don’t have the media literacy to reject bright colors and zooming images.

And for what? A junky retread of the Cars flicks? Apparently there is nothing to do in this universe but race. Because here we have a crop-dusting plane called, with such deeply clever originality, Dusty Crophopper (the voice of Dane Cook: Dan in Real Life, Mr. Brooks), and he wants to enter a round-the-world air race. Even though racing isn’t what he was built for, which is supposed to be some sort of anthropomorphic-aviation take on the dare-to-dream plot. It’s bad enough this sort of thing has been run into the ground previously, and would require a helluva lot more creativity than Planes has to offer in order to make it fresh and even just the slightest bit interesting. But it literally makes no sense in this context. Dusty was, in fact, built for crop-dusting, and there shouldn’t be any way in hell he has a ghost of a chance against planes that were built for speed. At least Cars’ Lightning McQueen is actually a racing car. And there’s no fantastical excuse for how Dusty might see his dream come true, as in this summer’s other apparently very similar animated flick, Turbo, in which the snail who dreams of speed gets a superhero-type transformation via an injection of nitro. Dusty is, simply and simplistically, the little plane who could, but he’s not competing against himself and his own ideas about what he might be able to do: he’s competing against other machines who are clearly designed to do things he cannot physically do.

Ah, well, there is one way in which Dusty is competing against himself: he’s afraid of heights. Could not screenwriter Jeffrey M. Howard have invented something the teensiest bit clever? Something the teensiest bit plane-ish? A fear of heights is very human. How about a fear of landing? That would be plane-ish. What is the point of telling a story about anthropomorphic planes if they’re going to be just like humans?

“It’s just a kids’ movie” is no excuse. Kids deserve better than this.

Look, either this all works in its own context and under its own rules, in which case Planes is full of howling, menacing mysteries. How do flying metal cans have gender and, ugh, sexual attraction? (You can tell which planes are “female” because they’re pink and pretty, and might turn a coy landing-gear ankle to flirt. Yes, this happens in Planes.) How do flying metal cans have ethnicity — and hence by the usual sort of extrapolation in what passes for “for kids” these days — rampant ethnic stereotypes? What purpose do commuter planes serve in a world without commuters? Or else it’s all metaphoric, in which case, what are we telling our kids when even in a world in which planes are sentient, “ladies” is considered an insult when directed at “male” planes? When the aggressive harassment of a “woman” plane is totally cool, because “no” means “yes” and eventually she’ll come round (she does)? When only “boys” can dare to dream and “girls” will be there to support them along the way?

You know how you’re gonna feel after those made-in-China Dusty Crophopper toys are broken and forgotten two days after you spend money you don’t have on them? Planes has that feeling built right in.

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Planes (2013)
US/Can release: Aug 9 2013
UK/Ire release: Aug 16 2013

Flick Filosopher Real Rating: rated OA: oh, the aviation-ity!
MPAA: rated PG for some mild action and rude humor
BBFC: rated U (contains no material likely to offend or harm)

viewed in 3D
viewed at a private screening with an audience of critics

official site | IMDb
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine | Rotten Tomatoes

If you’re tempted to post a comment that resembles anything on the film review comment bingo card, please reconsider.

  • RogerBW

    As I said about Cars 2: “Clearly, what has happened in this world is that the synthetically intelligent cars have risen up and destroyed their human creators, in one world-wide bloody night of carnage (sorry). The trauma from this event is so great that they have suffered a collective psychosis, taking onto themselves the dimly-remembered characteristics of their human victims. As the actual perpetrators of the Night of Hit and Run rust out and are replaced by automated factories mindlessly following their old programs, the newer cars simply assume the psychotic worldview because it’s all they’ve ever known.”

    Well, at least it’s a more interesting story than this one.

  • Diego Letamendi

    IT FINALLY MAKES SENSE! …kinda. God dammit Disney, why are you doing this to us?

  • PattiH.

    There are no new ideas. Tex Avery made “One Cab’s Family” and “Little Johnny Jet” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KlFRmo37F5w 60 years ago. (And there was much earlier Warner Bros. cartoom about sentient cars.)

  • I wish they’d make that movie next.

  • They should have stopped then.

  • Paul GC

    Very good review. I for one am getting increasingly tired of the seemingly-endless Disney/Pixar ‘Cars, ‘Cars 2’ and now ‘Planes’ franchise that, to me, seems to have run out of gas years ago. (Geez, can’t these people come up with even one new idea now and then anymore, with all the high salaries they get? That is what they get paid for!) I mean, at best, the whole ‘Cars’ and now ‘Planes’ premise is maybe good for **maybe** a 7-minute cartoon; but three separate hour-and-a-half movies??? Geez, talk about overkill & beating a thing into the ground. Anyway, a very good review, making many very good points that need to be said. Hopefully, someone at the Mouse Company will read them & get the message.

  • Paul GC

    The difference between Tex Avery is, he’d do an idea maybe once in a 7-minute cartoon; he didn’t keep cranking out endless feature-length movies one after the other, all based on the same premise, designed solely for the purpose of selling cheap plastic made-in-China toys.

  • Paul GC

    Because Disney’s dead (even Roy Disney, Walt’s nephew & last living relative with any talent is no longer with us) and the bean-counters and empty corporate suits have long since taken over and are now running the company (into the ground.) All of them combined wouldn’t know a good idea/premise for a movie if they sat on it. They can’t come up with any new ideas; all they can do is endlessly recycle old properties.

  • RogerBW



  • RogerBW

    Bear in mind the usual Hollywood barriers to innovation, too (if you do something that’s not blandly conventional, you’re putting your career on the line).

  • Andrew Lowther

    Terrible review! Did you watch the film or just the trailer?

    When reviewing a film one should start by determining the intended target audience. In the case of ‘Planes’ this would be young children, not cynical, middle aged types expecting to be treated to Inception every time they attend the cinema.

    Whilst I explain to my small lad the improbability of Dusty being able to reasonably compete against planes built for speed, should I also explain the unlikely hood that Santa actually comes down our chimney at Christmas?

    You also seem to have missed large chunks of the movie. Had you been paying attention you surely would have seen and understood that the 2 race stages in which Dusty manages to finish in front of the competition are under mitigating circumstances. Firstly; due to a massive short-cut and secondly after receiving a rift of modifications from his fellow racers and benefiting from a high speed tail-wind. You will also notice that all the racing planes depicted are reliant on propeller propulsion. This would naturally narrow the gap between a propeller plane built for speed and a
    propeller plane built for dusting crops. When you consider the modification and training Dusty undertakes in the movie, it does not require an outlandish stretch of the imagination to appreciate his ability to compete.

    But hey, don’t let the facts stand in the way of a morale crusade.

    When you call for Jeffrey M. Howard to have thought up something more imaginative, could you be more specific?
    Could this be the cheap sexual suggestion that Pixar all too frequently
    undermine their best work with? How refreshing that Planes relied upon Dad jokes for humor preferring to cater for children rather than adults.

    Whilst ‘Cars’ and indeed ‘Cars 2’ were re-hashed, tired and unimaginative generic movies directed toward the nowhere land between parent and child; ‘Planes’ boldly ditches the parent and delivers an excellent children’s movie, reveling in its own innocents and simplicity.

    There is enough evidence in your review to assume ‘Planes’ pitched some way over your head. Maybe a return to the gratuitous violence so often lauded by ‘those in the know’ will return you to a more satisfactory equilibrium.

    A stated in the movie, everyone loves a plucky underdog story. On the proviso that you don’t believe there is a conspiracy by Disney to take over the world, both you and your child should find this movie highly entertaining and more importantly, fun.

  • Danielm80

    I wrote a response to your comment this morning, but it seems to have been eaten.

    I’m having trouble following your logic. One of your main arguments seems to be: I liked this movie. Therefore everyone else should like it, too.

    You also seem to be saying that MaryAnn only likes movies full of sex and violence. There isn’t any evidence to support that. (Try reading some of her other reviews.) Maybe you’re arguing that the movie is worth watching because it’s not full of sex and violence. But even if the movie is family-friendly, that doesn’t mean it’s imaginative or funny or surprising, or anything other than a rehash of earlier films.

    But what really bothers me is the idea that the flaws in the story don’t matter, because the movie is for children. It’s kind of insulting to kids when you suggest that they don’t care whether the storyline is original, or makes any sense. Kids are very critical (I’ve met kids who criticize just about everything), and even if they don’t watch the movie in the same way as an adult, they still deserve a film that rises to their level of intelligence.

    MaryAnn said it even more succinctly:

    “It’s just a kids’ movie” is no excuse. Kids deserve better than this.

  • Lydia

    Another review I read noted that, amid the movie’s problems, it kind of made sense for a cropduster (built for flying low over the ground) to be afraid of heights.

  • Jan_Willem

    Just in case you didn’t know: there’s a funny sketch about the pitching of a Boats movie.

  • jack

    ANOTHER stupid review from Maryann. I liked this movie, as did my wife, and we liked both Cars as well (we dont even have kids)! I like the stereotypes, and I like that the Spanish plane harassed the French one to hook up. Nobody should give up! The movie was a Winner!
    And yes, calling men “ladies” IS an insult, feminazi idiot!

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