Let’s start with the good news first: Cars 2 is still the worst Pixar movie. You’ll note that I said Pixar specifically. Because while it’s “from the world of Cars,” the spin-off movie Planes has taken a far more ignominious title. It’s the worst animated film to ever bear the Disney name. It was something I was actively thinking about while watching the tailspin in front of me. Even the worst Disney films at least had a good song or a good character or even one funny line. Originally intended as a direct to DVD film that’s now getting a theatrical release, it’s too awful even going by the low bar it originally had set for it.
Dusty Crophopper (voiced by Dane Cook, filling in for cinematic luminary Jon Cryer who had the good sense to get out or get fired while he still could back in February of this year which means the film had to be more or less completed by then) is a farmhand crop duster that dreams of being a racing plane. He isn’t built for altitude and speed, which puts him at a huge disadvantage. Although he doesn’t qualify for the around the world Wings Around the Globe Rally, he makes it in through a loophole (one of the qualifiers was juicing, doping, or oiling, or whatever you want to call it). He doesn’t belong there and he’s a massive underdog looked down upon by most of his competitors. Can he win the big race?
Of course he wins the big race. But when a movie is this shoddily crafted it’s hard to care what the outcome will be so long as it ends, and even at just a hair over 90 minutes that ending never comes soon enough. The laziness of Planes starts mere seconds in with the realization that the film is so unoriginal that it just took a good chunk of the story from the first Cars film and simply plunked flying machines into it. How else to explain a story built around racing vehicles (and something as obscure and marginal as racing planes), with a plucky hero from a town that isn’t on any map populated only by mechanics and one mysterious old guy who will teach our hero how to fly better? But while the first Cars actually attempts to create characters with some degree of depth, there isn’t a single beat here that couldn’t be bought from a dollar store of clichés without getting an ample amount of change back on the dollar being spent in the first place.
Not only is there no suspense or wit to break up the clichés on parade, but there’s a great deal of padding. How else can an entire qualifying sequence involving planes that will never be characters in the film can play out over several minutes? Why have sequences where poor Brad Garrett (as a truck hopelessly trying to be the next Tow “Larry the Cable Guy” Mater and reeking of flop sweat and sadness) simply blathers on without any punchlines or even a funny situation to riff on? Scenes go on and on, just crashing into each other sometimes without reason or rhyme.
This film’s idea of characterization is pure caricature and stereotype. Dusty is the bland nice guy. There’s his dimwitted buddy. His shellshocked mentor (Stacy Keach). British Plane (John Cleese). Bad guy plane. Female fork lift (Teri Hatcher). Hot female Indian plane love interest (Priyanka Chopra, who apparently obviously has a bigger part in the overseas cut). Mexican luchador plane. Stereotypical Quebecois hot female plane (Julia Louis Dreyfuss in English, figure skater Joannie Rochette apparently dubs it in Quebec, but that won’t help matters). A bunch of random faceless drones. Lots of forklifts. A couple of cars.
These are problems that could have been become at least palatable with actual jokes and a knowledge of technical craft, but neither are on display here. The voice acting feels so forced because there’s nothing to work with. Even worse, some lines of dialogue are so terribly recorded they sound like they were phoned in. That’s not an exaggeration. If a character isn’t on screen (and in the case of Dreyfuss and Cleese’s entire performance) it’s so amateurish sounding, tinny, and out of alignment with everything else going on at the same time that it’s impossible to believe that every line of dialogue was recorded in a sound booth or even on professional grade microphones. I would say there are scenes missing, but nothing ever comes together anyway, so that would account from the sloppier than usual transitions between scenes. Every joke involving the ethnic characters are the blandest forms of stereotyping possible. The hero doesn’t ever do anything interesting. The villain has no personality and comes with two useless henchmen. The film can’t even get a chuckle out of Val Kilmer and Anthony Edwards showing up as two Top Gun styled fighter jets because the film itself has no clue how to make two guys from one of the most famous films involving planes ever made funny.
Perhaps even worst of all is that there isn’t anything redeeming about even bringing a kid to see it. There are precisely five seconds of the film where it has a message that means anything. It’s a scene where a random plane tells Dusty after he failed his qualifying run that 6th place isn’t anything to be ashamed of. Everything else about being a good sport and a good friend gets thrown out the window when the film ludicrously shows how cheating is cool when your friends help you cheat the already cheating and evil villain because he’s evil and stuff. Who cares that you stooped to their level? YOU WON! HOORAY! Oh, and there’s an actual sequence involving the old man having a flashback to a massacre of rookie airplanes in World War II that made several kids cry out in terror.
I might have been too kind when I said that Planes was the worst animated film to come out under the Disney name. It might be the worst film to ever feature planes in prominent roles that I’ve ever seen, and I have seen every Airport film, every Snakes on a Plane knock off you could probably dream up, and the entire Iron Eagle franchise. If you can think of one worse, please keep it to yourself. I don’t want to see it before next year’s unconscionably already green lit and already in production sequel to this Planes: Fire & Rescue, due out next summer. Actually, I don’t want to see it. Ever.