Monday, November 4, 2013

The Cinema File #268: "Planes" Review

How do sentient planes fuck each other? No, that's not the weirdest rhetorical question ever posed, I'm genuinely curious as to the logistics of this. Why, you ask? Because I just watched Planes, the new sort of but not really, though might as well be Pixar movie spun off from the world of the worst films in the company's canon, because apparently living cars weren't asinine enough. When one of these planes romances another one and then comes on screen with lipstick kisses all over his face, I can't help but question how her mouth, receding back as far as it does into her body, could get past the constantly spinning propeller blades of her swarthy Spanish paramour to accomplish what amounts to a silly sight gag, or for that matter, why she would be wearing lipstick, and how she would have applied it without functioning arms or hands. You might rightly accuse me of over thinking this, because of course it is a children's movie after all, but after watching so many Pixar movies over the years since I was a child and seeing all the detail put into them, here I kind of thought that was the point.

Planes follows Dusty Crophopper, an oh-so-creatively named Crop Duster who dreams of racing in a big annual around the world competition to prove that he can be more than what he was built for, much to the consternation of those forces demanding conformity in this horrifying future world ruled by the machines who annihilated all of humanity. And yes, if there was ever any doubt that that is exactly what's going on in this Cars/Planes universe, consider the mystery solved. Towards the end of the film, a fly over New York City reveals the Statue of Liberty to have been replaced by a car with a spiky crown and scepter, almost certainly an innocent joke, but one which begs for the last human alive, perhaps crashing to Earth in a time traveling space shuttle coming to hideous life upon re-entry into the atmosphere, falling to his knees and screaming of the maniacs who blew it up. Damn them. Damn them all to Hell.

Sorry, I keep getting off track with vehicular coitus and Planet of the Apes references, but there's really very little to say about the actual story here. It's basically every underdog sports movie ever made, which come to think of it is the same thing I said about Battle of the Year, only instead of trash talking break dancers in an inexplicable contest, at least here we get goofy cartoon characters and a competition where I can understand what's going on. I guess that's a plus? Admittedly, being an underdog story, I'd say that Planes probably works marginally better than the unrelatable riches to rags narrative of Cars or the unbearable spy movie pastiche of Cars 2, and I enjoyed Stacey Keach as the crotchety old trainer, presumably recorded while on a break from playing the comically racist judge in the horrifyingly offensive killer doll movie Ooga Booga, but slightly more watchable garbage is still garbage. In the end, judging the relative awfulness of this series is just a slippery slope to depression when you remember how much you used to love the people behind these films.

Of course, to be fair, as I eluded to above, Planes technically isn't a Pixar film, though at this point the distinction between Pixar and Walt Disney Animation's independent CGI movies is pretty slight, especially considering John Lasseter's influential role in both companies. Being the creator of the Cars series (as well as Toy Story, before you start throwing tomatoes) Lasseter's name is all over this pile, but given what I know to be his talent and vision even in spite of his weird attachment to these movies, I can't imagine he was as hands on here as he typically is. At least, I want to believe the man who brought us Woody and Buzz was maybe in another room when the other Planes writers decided to make the other racing planes an endless parade of borderline racist ethnic stereotypes, but then I'm probably being too generous. One wonders if this one might have been kept deliberately off the Pixar books so as not to add insult to injury after so many recent missteps.

The biggest problem with Planes is still the same as the overriding problem of Cars, which is that the mechanics of the universe (no pun intended) don't make any sense. Now, that sounds like a pretty silly complaint, as this is a kid's cartoon and one should be expected to have to suspend their disbelief that machines can talk and function like people, but again, remember, this isn't just any kid's movie, but a Pixar(ish) kid's movie. This is a company that has so many times in the past strived to justify their weird anthropomorphized realities with so much thought and detail put into making them believable, that seeing one so unbelievable is so much worse by comparison. After the complicated explanation for how monsters could exist and enter our world undetected through a network of magic doors, seeing a Plane without arms try to operate an I Pad is just insulting to my intelligence. I can accept a lot, but this is just too far. And for what?

At one point halfway through the film, we see giant passenger planes being taxied around JFK Airport after landing, and I'm forced to wonder why these particular planes would be maintaining their routine of flying from airport to airport when no humans exist to board them. Could it be that their bodies are still filled to capacity, with passengers unlucky enough to have been flying at the time of the vehicular uprising, now trapped on an endless round the world trip? Or maybe, small mercy, these planes are just filled with corpses. Okay, I admit, I'm just fucking around at this point, because Disney's Planes is so lacking in anything worthwhile that the only enjoyment I can get out of it is wildly morbid theorizing. Like why are crop dusters dusting crops when there are no humans to eat them? Or how does a civilization function when none of its people have arms or movable digits to manipulate their environment in any way. Yeah, now that I think about it, they have to be keeping at least a few humans alive as slave labor, which means at the very least I think we have another potential spinoff on our hands!

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