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Planes Review: Disney's Cynical, Exploitative Crowd-Pleasing Winner

By Dustin Rowles | Film Reviews | August 11, 2013 | Comments ()


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Originally slated as a direct-to-video spin-off of Pixar’s Cars produced by DisneyToon Studios (Disney’s direct-to-video arm), Disney made the last-second decision to release Planes in theaters to generate additional box-office revenue and, ultimately, make it a bigger hit on DVD, where it’s likely to make most of its profits.

It’s easy to see this as a cynical ploy by Disney to capitalize on Pixar’s goodwill, and in part, it is, but it’s not quite as cynical as you might think. DisneyToon Studios exists to create these direct-to-video movies that are designed to appeal to very young kids, and movies that appeal exclusively to this demo tend not to do well in theaters because parents have no interest in suffering through them, and the young adult demo that drives box-office revenue also tends to steer clear. However, if you approach these spin-offs from the perspective of a young kid, instead of a viewer, their existence is not necessarily a bad thing.

Essentially, DisneyToon Studios takes a known identity (Lion King, Winnie the Pooh, Toy Story, etc.), crudely creates a movie within the same universe using some or all of the same characters, brings in second-rate voice actors, grafts those characters into a very formulaic template, and strips the movie of anything that the original might have done to appeal to adults. That means no pop-culture references, no winks at the audience, no double entendres, and no pop hits on the soundtrack. Most importantly, the dramatic tension — what makes a movie interesting to an adult but “scary” to a child — is mostly stripped away.

It makes the movies an absolute snoozer for adults (in fact, I slept through half an hour of Planes and was disappointed to find myself awake before the third act), but kids from 4-8 get to enjoy a movie without any of the jokes that go over their head, or any of the tension that often doesn’t sit well with smaller kids. It’s why, when Slate asked kids what their favorite Pixar movies, Cars 2 ranked even higher than the original Cars and Brave — the scariest of the lot — was the second most poorly received (I specifically remember the screening of Brave that I attended had scores of anxious and/or crying children, including my own then four year old who was curled in my lap for portions of the film).

That’s a long way of saying that young kids will like Planes because it is not scary, because it lacks dramatic tension, because of the bad puns based on idioms familiar to kiddos (“For flying out loud!”), because planes fly really fast, and because the good guy wins in the end. A six year old does not give a sh*t that Robin Williams is providing a voice, or if Christina Aguilera is providing a soundtrack song.

Adults will dislike Planes for the same exact reasons young kids love it, but then again, DisneyToon Studios is no more attempting to appeal to adults than the makers of Zombieland were attempting to appeal to five year olds. It is as cookie cutter a movie as is possible: Underdog dust cropper enters a round-the-world competition with racing planes, overcomes his fear of heights, thwarts the bullying favorites, and wins the race. It’s the same movie we saw three weeks ago, in Turbo, only with 40 percent of the budget, none of the adult appeal, planes instead of snails, and Dane Cook instead of Ryan Reynolds (both films also opened with low $20 million weekends, which is a great number for Planes and made Turbo a bomb).

For what it’s worth, my six year old also preferred Planes to Turbo, while I found Turbo mildly amusing and completely checked out of Planes. While I’d certainly prefer animated fare that holds some appeal for adults, the experience is not designed for me. It’s designed for young kids, and in that respect, Disney’s cynical, exploitative, brand tarnishing gambit was a huge crowd pleaser.



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Comments Are Welcome, Jerks Will Be Banned


  • DeltaJuliet

    We saw this last night with our 3 and 10 year old sons. And now I know exactly what it was that didn't "feel" right, other than being completely unoriginal. It felt like a straight-to-DVD movie. I couldn't quite put my finger on it, but there it is.
    Oh well, the kids loved it, and we got a night out of the house. So, it's a win in my book.

  • Misomaniac

    Crop Duster?? For whom? I thought it was understood that in the post-apocalyptic world of Cars & Planes all the humans were getting fat on Axiom. Or dead. Depending on Wall-E's status in the oeuvre.

  • linnyloo

    Ethanol for fuel, natch...

  • JT

    I'm sorry, I sat through this abortion with my niece and nephew and while they enjoyed it (shiny! colours! popcorn!), I thought it was horrendous. A copy of a copy of a copy, a lazy turd of a movie spitshined by the U.S. military. Hilarious punny Guadalcanal references, anyone? No? Oh.
    What a waste.

  • Valhallaback Girl

    I haven't seen the movie but I'm really glad Disney has stepped up to the plate to explain 9/11 to children.

  • Andrew

    Whatever happened to the Don Bluth-esque, 1980's, kid's are supposed to be scared, movies?

    People still remember the horse dying in NeverEnding Story. Who's going to remember Planes?

  • Salieri2

    Yeah, what about The Rats of NIMH? I'm practically crapping my pants right now thinking back to how scary that was. [Book good too. Me talk pretty some day.]

  • Sara_Tonin00

    Yes - one of the scariest things to watch as a kid is that freaky red-lit scene at the end with Nicodemus and the mud. Love it.

  • **I AM** NotTheOne

    Ha! Sedaris.

    And I cannot watch the The Rats of NIMH because...rats.

  • **I AM** NotTheOne

    Labyrinth is on cable right now. That shit was messed up but you know you want to watch it.

  • **I AM** NotTheOne

    Dustin, When your first Mini-Pajiban is old enough to write, he should do the kid movie reviews.

    I don't know how you sit through that shite. My kid is now a teenager and I don't miss these movies one bit. I'm still bitter about "Piglet's Big Movie" which I KNOW should have gone straight to video. And there are some others so bad they made my eyelids itch.

  • Kevin M. Hagerman

    When I saw the dialogue-free trailer, I knew something was askew.

  • Bodhi

    My 2 year old LOVES Cars & my husband is an airplane mechanic, so this has been on the must see list since we found out about it. Good to know that he'll enjoy it

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