Dusty Crophopper (voiced by Dane Cook) was made for crop dusting, but in Disney's 'Planes,' which is set within the world of Pixar's 'Cars,' he leaves everyone in the dust during a round-the-world aerial race to prove he's more than just what he was built for. Sadly, when it comes to the world of movies, where the competition can be demanding and fierce, he's the one left in the dust, flying to the finish line in dead last. All that training, practice and learning those aerobatic maneuvers help in accomplishing his goal — beating the faster, more experienced veteran racers, of course! — but they do little in making a competently satisfying motion picture.
Dusty may be the predictable winner, netted in a very predictable plot and surrounded by some adorable characters, but he makes for uninteresting and dull competition. Although he demonstrates some inept skill during the qualifiers for the "Wings Across the World" race, his entry is ultimately just as unexciting and boring — a convenient accident involving illegal fuel enhancers. In a movie blatantly designed for the youngest among us! In fact, the story's entire theme tries to inspire and encourage, in none too subtle hints, to reach for the skies and push the limits, but it does so with some rather problematic and disturbing implications. The suggestion of illegal substances in a sport is only a fraction of it.
Don't get me wrong, inspiring young audiences to strive for greatness is admirable and a worthy theme in any animated film. However, the idea of punishing those who use enhancers at the beginning undermines this very motif by the script contradicting itself in the third act. Our unlikely hero Dusty displays heart and sportsmanship throughout the race while still being true to himself, particularly when choosing to help fellow racer Bulldog (John Cleese), which turns him into a worldwide sensation for the working class. But after being battered by a tropical storm and crashing into the ocean, Dusty — and the filmmakers — see no problem in him exchanging the broken parts with better, superior parts.
In essence, changing your exterior body and making physical alterations in order to enhance your ability to race, to which you were never built for, is perfectly acceptable. If you can't do it with what you've got, then commit yourself to some surgery to change your outside. And as long as you remain true to yourself, it's all fair game?
I'm sure some will be quick to accuse me of nitpicking, but this contradiction within the story is genuinely being expressed by the film's end. Enhancers are there to help when doing it on your own is too difficult. Making things worse the whole movie is a series of utterly lame jokes spoken by incredibly dull stock characters. Dusty's entourage includes Chug (Brad Garrett), a supportive but dim-witted fuel truck, forklift mechanic Dottie (Teri Hatcher) and reclusive Navy war plane turned trainer Skipper (Stacy Keach). In the race, he befriends a Mexican race-plane that inexplicably wears a wrestling mask and cape named El Chupacabra (Carlos Alazraqui), who Dusty later helps transform into the "Lowv Ma-chin."
Other planes participate in their requisite roles for guiding Dusty into championship glory, but none are really ever given enough screen time to feel like their involvement would have made any difference. Well, outside of the arrogant reigning champion Ripslinger (Roger Craig Smith) as antagonist, the other competitors add little to the story's anticipated end. Julia Louis-Dreyfus voices French-Canadian racer Rochelle, and Priyanka Chopra plays Dusty's love interest as Ishani while Ripslinger's followers Ned and Zed (Gabriel Iglesias) fail at breaking a smile. In fact, the only genuine moment of laughter is when Val Kilmer and Anthony Edwards show up to help our would-be hero, but that will likely go over the heads of most viewers unfamiliar with Tony Scott's 'Top Gun.'
In the end, 'Planes' is not the high-flying, action-packed thrill ride it imagines itself to be. From DisneyToon Studios, this CG-animated spin-off of Pixar's 'Cars' franchise was initially intended to be grounded in the direct-to-video runway mat, but someone made the mistake of clearing it for departure into wide-release. Now, audiences everywhere are set to witness this crash and burn disaster with two more installments! Is no one manning the radio tower!
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment brings 'Planes' to 3D Blu-ray as a three-disc combo pack with a code for a Digital Copy. Two Region Free, BD50 discs sit comfortably atop the other on the panel opposite a DVD-9 copy with a lightly embossed, glossy slipcover. At startup, the 3D disc, which contains only the movie, shows a 3D trailer before switching to a 3D menu screen with the standard options, music and full-motion clips.
'Planes' fly, dash and barrel across the screen with a 1080p/MVC MPEG-4 encode that largely impresses but also leaves some to be desired. The 3D picture displays tons of dimensionality though it never seems consistent or all that convincing. The weakest areas, meaning the flattest, almost 2D looking scenes, are during the quietest, dialogue-heavy moments. They still deliver a pleasing sense of depth, as background information appears to be at some distance, but it's pretty mild and it never feels as characters move within a 3D space. The best sequences are undoubtedly those with lots of action, especially when characters are flying through the sky. The planes show a realistic roundness to their bodies and their noses occasionally protrude from the screen, so the overall 3D video is pleasing enough.
Presented in its original 1.78:1 aspect ratio, the rest of the image bursts off the screen with a wide assortment of bright, vivid colors. Richly-saturated primaries lavish every scene with energy and life while softer pastel hues provide warmth and zest. Contrast and brightness are very well-balanced with crisp, glowing whites and deeply intense blacks which complement the 3D picture splendidly. I did detect some mild aliasing and negligible banding here and there; however, a majority of the animation is razor-sharp, nicely revealing the amount of talented work that went into designing this CG world. Individual lines along the bodies of each plane are highly detailed and distinct; ocean waves swell and crash with lifelike movement; and various buildings and landmarks are very well-defined.
The CG-animated film swooshes, whirls and breaks the speed of sound with a shockingly excellent DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack that utilizes all seven channels to amazing effect. The rears are employed at various moments throughout, even during quieter spots with subtle ambient sounds in the distance. Most impressive, however, are the flying sequences when planes zoom from front to back and vice versa with superb realism and panning. The front soundstage is expansive and broad with a variety of activity across all three channels while maintaining precise, distinct vocals in the center. Dynamic range is crystal-clear with splendid detailed clarity in the upper frequencies, and the low-end delivers a powerful response with a couple thundering booms that resonate across the room, mostly in scenes with propellers and jet planes.
From DisneyToon Studios, 'Planes' is a CG-animated spin-off of Pixar's 'Cars' franchise initially intended as a direct-to-video feature, but a last minute decision turned it into a theatrical wide release. Unfortunately, the dull and uninspiring underdog story of a plane winning a round-the-world race probably never should have left the runway mat. Nonetheless, the movie arrives on 3D Blu-ray with an excellent 3D picture and audio presentation that have kiddies roaring for more. Supplements are a lighter side of things, but provide additional info younger viewers might find interesting. All in all, the 3D package is ultimately for those hungering for more 3D material and willing to take the risk.
Portions of this review also appear in our coverage of Dunkirk on Blu-ray. This post features unique Vital Disc Stats, Video, and Final Thoughts sections.