Movie review:  With 'Planes', Disney aims for the sky but reaches new lows

It would be easy to assume that Planes (opening today) is the latest effort from the famed Pixar Animation Studios, given that its poster, concept and characters immediately invoke Pixar's 2006 film, Cars, and its 2011 follow-up, Cars 2. On the poster for Planes it even says, "From above the world of Cars," implying a connection.

Well Cars and Planes could not be further apart from each other. In fact, you can't go much lower than Planes. It's one of the worst animated films in recent memory that hasn't gone straight-to-video.

And, oh by the way, Planes is not a Pixar film after all, though Disney doesn't seem to mind the consumer confusion. The company has slyly kept quiet in its promotion of Planes that Prana Animation Studios is behind this one. Who is Prana? They are best known for Disney's straight-to-DVD releases, Tinker Bell and Secret of the Wings (basically, Tinker Bell 4).

When you start to piece together the the wreckage that is Planes, it all begins to make sense. They chose a Tinker Bell-er to handle the script (Jeffrey M. Howard, who penned Tinker Bell) and to handle directing duties (Klay Hall, best known for Tinker Bell and the Lost Treasure). Now there is nothing inherently wrong with a straight-to-video release. But do you know what they call a high-quality, straight-to-video release? A theatrical release.

The problem here is that Planes is a bottom-of-the-bargain-bin, straight-to-video film that just so happened to get a theatrical release. Why? Well who knows for sure, but my guess? It's similarity to the very popular Pixar Cars movies. Planes seems a perfect way for Disney to cash in on the success of the Cars franchise.

As the story goes, Dusty (voiced by Dane Cook) is a crop-dusting plane dreaming of the big time. But guess what? He's afraid of heights! With his mentor, the old war plane Skipper (Stacy Keach) and his best pal, the cargo vehicle, Chug (Brad Garrett), Dusty goes off to compete in an around-the-world aerial race against the best the world has to offer.

The problem - besides the tired and totally unoriginal premises (didn't we just see Turbo a few weeks back?) - is the unfortunate lack of inspiration. Planes contains not even one drop of the Disney magic that has fueled the company's engines for decades. When we are usually invited into a world - take any other Disney movie, for example - we see inventiveness. The best Planes has to offer are lines like, "Ladies and Gentle-planes!" and cliched stereotypes.

Yes, in addition to being boring, uninspired, under-written and unfunny, Planes is very nearly offensive. Dusty races against one-note planes from each country, with the loud, Don Juan wanna-be from Mexico, the snooty British plane, Bulldog and the seductive french lady-plane, Rochelle. Then there is Ripslinger, the cocky and evil-for-no-reason "best of the best" and main antagonist of Dusty. Collectively, each paper-thin character goes nowhere fast, calling upon the laziest form of character development to ensure the preservation of age-old stereotypes.

Worse yet, there is no purpose for anything that happens. Why is Dusty even in the race? The film doesn't seem to know. What's at stake if he were to lose? How much thought seems to have gone into this story? If you answered "zero" to both of these questions, you're right.

Children deserve better, especially considering that there is already a sea of straight-to-video releases on par or above this one. Why go to a theater to pay for what you shouldn't really even be watching at home in the first place? Even the 3D and the animation leaves a lot to be desired. If Pixar is Picasso, Prana is a 15-year-old with a box of crayons.

As a life-long Disney fan, it pains me to throw Planes on the critical scrap-heap. It feels nice that theatrical releases still have a certain amount of expectation attached to them...I wasn't all upset, for example, with the quality of Tinker Bell, because it stayed out of theaters even though it carried the Disney name.

The obvious joke is, "What's next, Boats?" Don't be surprised. Disney - or any other studio - just shouldn't be able to release this sort of crap to the masses. Sure, peddle it on DVD and Blu-Ray. But there is a reason The Lion King 2 was kept out of theaters: A respect and reverence for Disney films that had come before and an expectation for quality from the brand for its theatrical releases. Nowadays, is it really all about money? Sadly, I think the answer is obvious. It's unfortunate that the masses can't seem to reject or filter anything at all when it comes to animation aimed at children.

There's only one direction you can go from Planes though and that's up.

Genre: Animation, Adventure

Run Time: 1 hour, 32 minutes, Rated PG

Starring (voices of): Dane Cook, Stacy Keach, Brad Garrett, Teri Hatcher, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, John Cleese, Cedric the Entertainer, Carlos Alazraqui, Anthony Edwards, Val Kilmer

Written by Jeffrey M. Howard (Tinker Bell)

Directed by Klay Hall (Tinker Bell and the Lost Treasure)

Opens locally on Friday, Aug 9, 2013 (check for show times).

Be sure to watch Tom Santilli on TV! Check your local listings for “Movie Show Plus” for Tom’s weekly movie review segment, airing at 3 p.m. EST on MYTV20 in Detroit.

Subscribe above for email alerts of all movie reviews and news, and follow me on Twitter, @tomsantilli and at TomSantilli.com.

How to read Tom Santilli's "Star Ratings:"

  • 5 Stars: Exceptional, must-see movie
  • 4 Stars: Very good movie, not without flaws
  • 3 Stars: The movie was just OK, leaves a lot to be desired
  • 2 Stars: Pretty bad, a let-down, disappointing, but with some redeeming qualities
  • 1 Star: Awful, sloppy, a total waste of time