August 26, 2013
I had no plans to watch "Planes". The posters were so much like desperate copies of "Cars" and what's worse, the initial reviews were not too good. I confess I had relented grudgingly when my kids insisted to watch it today, feeling this will not be worth the expensive ticket prices. But you know what, during and after the film, my kids and I all agree that this surprisingly turned out to be one of the best animated films we have watched this year, if not the very best!
From the very start, "Planes" proudly announces that it is indeed part of the world of "Cars," which means that this film is actually a spin-off. The animation style of the characters in "Planes" was that of "Cars" with those characteristic eyes and old-fashioned charm. Notably though, the name of Pixar, the studio who originated "Cars," is not seen anymore.
The lead plane character is Dusty Crophopper, a lowly crop duster, who loved to fly fast and fancy, pushing his engine to its very extreme limits. Determined to be more than what he is made to be, Dusty aspires to qualify and win the prestigious "Wings Across the World" international aviation race which flies from New York, across the freezing Atlantic, through the treacherous Himalayas, across the monsoons of the Pacific and back.
This "unlikely hero taking on an impossible race" story is already an oft-repeated theme in several animated films. In fact, just earlier this year, we just saw this very same story in "Turbo", a snail who wanted to race with cars. But unlike these others, there was something special about "Planes."
I think it was the very good nature of Dusty that made the difference. He was humble, helpful, and friendly throughout the race. We will all cheer him through all the difficulties he had to get over in order to remain in contention for the big title, given his inherent limitations. Not only his determination, but more importantly, his kindness will earn him his just rewards at the end, in more ways than one.
Despite many commonalities with other films, "Planes" managed NOT to feel like an exact copy of anything. It was actually very refreshing and enjoyable to watch even for adults.
The aviation terminology (from Dottie, Dusty's talented plane mechanic) and air force jargon (from Skipper, Dusty's old-timer fighter jet coach) are very interesting to hear. I'd like to buy the DVD just so i can run those lines by me again and read more about them.
The side plot about the hopeless romantic Mexican plane "El Chupacabra" and his crush on the icy "Rochelle" from Canada is funny without distracting from the main story. There is another subplot about Skipper and his war records on the USN aircraft carrier Flyhausen which may be of interest to the older audiences.
The voices may not be so distinctive, but the voice actors, led by Dane Cook for Dusty, do their jobs well. The other voice actors were Teri Hatcher as Dottie, Stacy Keach as Skipper, Julia Louise Dreyfuss as Rochelle, and John Cleese as the haughty British plane called Bulldog. "Top Gun" actors Anthony Edwards and Val Kilmer also contribute their voices to a couple of fighter jets called Echo and Bravo.
The numerous aerial sequences were breathtakingly executed and edited all the way up to the finish line. The musical scores were also exhilarating during the scenes, making them all the more exciting to watch. These scenes definitely overshot my very low expectations by nautical miles.
As of now, there is now a sequel in pre-production called "Planes: Fire and Rescue", which sounds like it is veering away from the tired race format (hopefully), so that should be something to look forward to in the summer of 2014. 8/10