We’ve all been there. We’ve liked a movie that isn’t popular with critics and the general public. We get disheartened by the negative comments and bad reviews that arise even though we think the film isn’t half as bad as it’s made out to be. We always feel a need to defend these movies, particularly when that movie is an animated Disney film. So, after doing a general internet search and finding too many negative posts, I’d like to take this chance to defend Disney’s Planes and its sequel Planes: Fire & Rescue.
I will admit it unashamedly: I love the Planes franchise. I’m not defending these movies because they take me back to my childhood or because I feel nostalgic towards them. My view of these movies is purely based on what I think as a grown adult. Accepting these films actually wasn’t easy at first. The film series Tinker Bell was much easier to get attached to, because we already knew the character. But I think it’s much harder to start a new film series with a brand new character. Planes is, of course, a spin-off of Pixar’s world of Cars. It should come as no surprise to our readers that I like the Cars movies, too. They were released during a time in my life when I wanted to move on and change and Lightening McQueen embodied this for me. But, I wasn’t sure what to think when I first saw this teaser trailer for Planes:
This teaser is generally aimed towards young boys – as the film is – so I didn’t have a huge urge to see it (even though the trailer did provide me with a little chuckle). In retrospect, this teaser is misleading. It gives the impression that the main character, Dusty, is possibly training to be in the military. When I saw the movie I realized it is a straight-up underdog racing story. I was fine with this storyline, because I’d never seen it done with planesbefore and the piloting lingo used did impress me. Disney had clearly done its research.
When the sequel came along, I began to look back at the first movie as a sort of superhero origin story. Since the characters and world were already established, the sequel could really knuckle down and get into the plot. This is what I feel Fire & Rescue should most definitely be praised for: its story. Just when I thought I couldn’t love Dusty any more after the first movie, he chooses to learn about fire and rescue to help his hometown. This choice provides an important message about finding one’s place in the world when life doesn’t pan out as expected. It’s something we can all understand. What do you do after you’ve lost your dream? As Dusty chokes up when he tells helicopter rescuer Blade Ranger that his gearbox is broken, I choke up too. We even get another touching story about the veteran, Blade Ranger, who chose to become fire and rescue helicopter after losing a close friend. These are profound storylines for any movie, let alone an animated one.
I’ve never been a Dane Cook fan, so I was surprised by how much I liked him as the voice of Dusty. He puts a surprising amount of heart into his performance. Dusty is, by far, my favorite character out of the entire cast from the Planes and Cars world. He’s everything a hero should be – daring, selfless, and inspiring – but he’s not perfect. He makes mistakes. He trusts in the wrong people and acts before he thinks. Nothing comes easy to him. He actually has to work at flying fast and putting out fires before he becomes good at these tasks. If this is the type of role model children see in Disney films today, then I’m all for it. Not to mention, the other voices included are legendary seasoned actors like Stacy Keach, John Cleese, and Ed Harris. I was as happy with this cast as I was when I found out that the Paul Newman voiced Doc Hudson in Cars. This cast wouldn’t agree to join the film if they thought it wasn’t worth their time.
Planes is, of course, the type of movie that generates a lot of merchandise and this is something for which the film is most stigmatized. But why should this surprise anyone? Any film – and I’m not just thinking of animated films here – will have merchandise if the franchise is popular enough. Frozen and Marvel’s Avengers instantly come to mind. Should the fact that the Planes films generate a lot of merchandise sales take anything away from the quality of the movie itself?
The fact that a film has a lot of merchandise should not influence how the film is judged. Why not focus on more important things, like the animation? It bothers me that there is lack of appreciation for the animation in the Planes films. For one thing, I get extremely annoyed when people compare Planes to a Pixar movie. Yes, they are two sides of the same coin. The film is a spin-off of a Pixar movie. But the film was made by DisneyToon Studios. DisneyToon does not have the budget or resources that Pixar Studios, or even the Walt Disney Animation Studios, does. Even so, DisneyToon produced a pretty darn good looking film. Take a look at the Nepal scene in the first movie or the flames engulfing the woods in the second. Fire, in particular, is known as one of the most difficult things to animate and DisneyToon pulls it off brilliantly.
There are also ‘little details’ I love in animated movies. The way the propellers on the planes spin naturally, depending on how they move, and even the planes’ designs should be praised. These are not generic-looking planes. They are all designed from or inspired by real life aircraft. And, let’s not forget the eyes on these planes. Anyone who’s seen the behind-the-scenes of Cars knows that Disney chief creative officer John Lasseter decided to place the cars’ eyes on the windscreen (as opposed to the usual headlights) so they could convey more feeling (and they really do).
I also like a movie where the music feels just as important as the cinematography and acting. The score for both of the Planes movies were written by Mark Mancina, the composer who gave us the music for Tarzan and Brother Bear. Needless to say, Mancina offers another score that is both emotive and powerfully uplifting, while matching the songs of the film. I am biased when it comes to the music because I am a Brad Paisley fan and he gives us a few country songs to enjoy (just as he did with Cars). But the perfect example to show the strength of the film’s music is Spencer Lee’s “Still I Fly” from Fire & Rescue:
I’ll mention the humor, because there are films out there that are labelled ‘comedy’ and yet fail to make us laugh. I find Planes to be one of those movies in which the whole family can find something that tickles their funny bone. For the kids, it’s lines like “I swish my cape at you!” and for adults it’s the references like “CHoPs,” a homage to the 1970s cop show CHiPs (which kept me laughing constantly). The filmmakers recognize the right ‘moments’ for a joke and then, when the plot needs to get serious, they know when to hold back. The animation subtlety and humor are a beautiful blend, too.
My favorite moment in Fire and Rescue is small one. RV Winnie opens her mouth to speak, but closes it when her husband of fifty years decides to carry on talking. It’s something that seems so simple. yet so clever to me, because it’s a trait we recognize in long-time couples. This moment shows how there is care and attention in this movie that is, regrettably, often dismissed too easily because it’s considered an “animated kid’s movie.” It baffles me that people think like this. Animated movies are made by grown men and women. It’s a real career, and a difficult one. Why brush of their work simply because they have to produce a movie that will entertain the young as well as the old?
I, for one, am very excited for a third installment in the Planes franchise, as it has the same potential to have powerful music, perfect voice casting, talented animators, and interesting storyline. It is for these reasons, and many more, that I will always defend Disney’s Planes.
Do you love or hate Disney’s ‘Planes’? Do you have an animated movie that you would like to defend too?
MJ is a writing and film graduate who loves to relax with scented candles and herbal teas. She is a dog-walker by day and a pie-maker by night. She loves movies starring Christopher Reeve and her favorite animated film is Meet the Robinsons. MJ also loves anything that LAIKA and Tim Burton come out with.