Planes (2013)

(On Cable TV, June 2014) I can still remember the cackles that accompanied the first trailers for this “From the world of Cars” spinoff: Everyone knows that Cars and its sequel are regarded as the weakest Pixar movies yet some of Disney’s biggest merchandising brands. Now that Disney can do whatever they want with the concept, handing over the franchise to another studio and creating new licensing opportunities seemed like the easiest, crassest thing possible. But here we are now, with a Cars knock-off that barely attempts to hide its source of inspiration. The “little plane that could” set-up has the first half-hour of Cars (with small town characters, a wise mentor and scenery shaped like vehicles) leading to a globe-trotting tour borrowed from Cars 2. The film, obviously geared for boys, doesn’t spend much thought in trying to deliver something different, or to avoid casual racism-by-nationality. (Ah, yes, the harassment-grade romantic behavior by a Mexican boy-plane that eventually sweeps the French-Canadian girl-plane off her wheels rather than earn the harasser a restraining order…. is this the kind of thing we need to show today’s pre-teens?) The story is dead-simple, with obvious narrative threads picked up just in time for the predictable climax. Even the flying sequences seem surprisingly short. I’m not going to complain about the impossible logistics of the Cars universe any further except to say that this film just pushes the whole thing into I-don’t-care-anymore nonsense. And yet, for all the basic silliness, there are a few good moments in Planes: most of them have to do with the sheer joy of flying, and the animation can be impressive when the planes behave like planes rather than oddly-shaped characters. It’s not quite enough that make Planes a good film, but it is enough to make any adult sit down and watch the entire film, which is probably just what the filmmakers intended. As I write this, the trailer for Planes: Fire and Rescue is already out, making it clear that the Cars universe will keep spinning off more licensing opportunities whether we like it or not.

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