Film review: PLANES, from Built For Speed

Set in the same universe as Cars and featuring a loveable little mechanical character competing against ruthless opposition in a high stakes race, the latest big budget Pixar animated film Planes is basically Cars with wings.  This slavish adherence to formula is disappointing but not a deal-breaker when a film is as endearing, exuberant and cleverly made as this.  In fact, the wise-cracking, mechanical characters in these films are so cute and lovable they are clearly part of a Skynet plot to acclimatise us to the idea of a world ruled by machines.

Set in a backwater town that’s remarkably similar to the one in Cars, Planes sees affable crop-dusting plane Dusty Crophopper (Dane Cook) dream of becoming a champion aerial racer. Despite a lack of experience and a fear of heights, he enters a renowned and treacherous round-the-world race where, among a host of planes friendly and otherwise, he has to battle slimy nemesis Rip Slinger (Roger Craig Smith).

Although suspiciously similar to Cars, this film expands the Pixar pallet with stunning depictions of international locales from Germany to India all rendered through remarkable photo-realistic animation.  The scenes of the planes dogfighting and swooping through mountains and tunnels and across oceans are stunning.  Joining Dusty on his journey is the familiar gaggle of quirky accomplices including tow-truck Chug (Brad Garrett), forklift Dottie (Teri Hatcher) and the obligatory grumpy but wise mentor with a tragic back story, an old war plane named Skipper (Stacy Keach).

Just as the Flintstones did all those years ago and so many animated comedies have done since, Planes relies on gags that re-calibrate our world to the animated fantasy world depicted so that, in this case, familiar pop-cultural references are given an aeronautical twist.  Planes cleverly balances cute, kid-friendly gags with pop cultural in-jokes that will amuse adults although there’s nothing particularly side splitting here. In fact some of the gags awkwardly misfire, particularly the depiction of planes from other nations which involves cringe worthy racial stereotypes such as the toffy-nosed Brit (John Cleese) and the hot blooded Mexican (Carlos Alazraqui). Former Packed to the Rafters star Jessica Marais, however, gives her character, an Aussie plane, a fun and seductive quality.

This is not the sort of ground breaking, gob-smackingly inventive animated comedy with which Pixar delighted us for so many years but it’s a fun, exciting and affable adventure that should entrance youngsters over the holidays.


Nick’s rating: Three stars.

Classification: G.

Director(s): Klay Hall.

Release date: 19th Sept 2013.

Running time:  91 mins.


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