Planes (3D)

Pixar/Walt Disney
What it's about:

Dusty is a cropduster whose dreams to compete in a high-speed aerial racing are very close to coming true as he surprises everyone by qualifying as a contestant in a prestigious flying competition – if only Dusty could get over his deathly fear of heights.

What we thought:

The Cars franchise has always been something of a black mark in Pixar's otherwise fairly exemplary catalogue of films. Neither Cars nor its much maligned sequel are exactly terrible films but they were both pretty badly conceived conceptually and neither film has either the greatest story or particularly interesting characters and, to this day, I still don't know what age group the first film was actually aimed at.

With this in mind, my expectations for a spin-off of Cars, created by Disney without the aid of Pixar and originally aimed at the home video market, were not exactly high. It also didn't help that everything about the film looked like a crass cash in to sell even more toys. It probably says something then that Planes doesn't even manage to live up to these meagre expectations and easily ranks as the worst animated film released so far this year.  

Once again we are faced with the same terrible world-building that made Cars so troubling in that this is a world populated exclusively by talking vehicles but is otherwise entirely like our own – why would cars need a) their crops dusted and b) crops? - but it's even more lackluster in the storytelling front. It has none of the whizz-bang action of Cars 2 and none of the weirdly misplaced but still quite welcome nostalgic Americana of the first film and it's basic story is more or less just Cars, but in reverse.

As for its characters, there is a certain amount of smartness in some of the supporting cast with a stiff upper lipped British plane that can't stop crying and a Casanova-like Spanish plane that is rubbish with the girls that are the film's few highlights, especially as one of them (guess which?) is played by John Cleese, but Dusty himself is a bit of a bore. The whole idea of a plane that's afraid of heights is a decent one but they forgot to build a character around it. Besides, I'm pretty sure one of these animated kids films had a giraffe that was afraid of heights so it's not like the idea is even that new.  

It doesn't even have the Cars movies wonderful animation to fall back on because though it is made with the competence that you would expect of a Disney film, the bland, unimaginative visuals don't hold a candle to most modern CG animated films. The character designs are boring, the flying scenes uninvolving and the film just has none of the glorious visual details – or colour pallet – of the vast, vast majority of its many contemporaries.   
To be entirely fair, very young kids may well enjoy it but that probably has more to do with the flashy colours and the very experience of going to the cinema than the film itself. It's bland, it's boring, it's exceptionally unimaginative and lazy and it's largely lacking in a decent characters, action, adventure, wonder or halfway decent laughs. Even it's quite sweet moral message has already been done better in Monsters University.

But then, that right there is probably it's biggest problem. There are countless CG animated movies for kids released each year and, with the exception of wonderfully pleasant surprises like Paranorman, they're all pretty similar to one another so they really need to have something special about them to really stand out from the pack.

Taking a look at cinemas right now, is there really any room for a non-starter like Planes when we already have far superior fare like Despicable Me 2 and Monsters University to choose from? No, of course there isn't.

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