Disney’s Planes, set in the world of Pixar’s cars, started as Direct to Home Video project from DisneyToon Studios with most of the animation work done out of India via Prana Studios. At some point in the process the powers that be decided that the home video market wasn’t strong enough to support more releases and that the movie would need to be upgraded to a theatrical release. There isn’t one clearly identifiable moment but the shift in intensity is obvious between the start and end of the movie.
How can you tell? The world building got richer, the main character got a new voice with more of a spine, featured characters became multidimensional, supporting characters either fade into the background or gain more importance to the plot. It definitely makes for a stronger film, even if it has a bit of a multiple personality disorder.
If one was being cynical you might call Disney’s Planes a thinly veiled attempt at selling more merchandise related to the merchandise juggernaut that Pixar’s Cars franchise has become. But it is true and you can’t blame Disney for trying. They had a good run with the Tinkerbell and her Pixie Hollow friends DVDs. The company depends on merchandise sales to drive a lot of the profits and it really extends the life of Disney animation in general.
If there is even a little box office interest, the characters of the film, which are mostly planes, will no doubt sell a fleet of toys for Disney. Heck I’ve already bought a Dusty the airplane antenna ball (featured in the movie, btw). It’s cute. Of course, the family movie box office has been soft this summer, so I wouldn’t be surprised if Disney’s Planes crash dives this weekend.
So, how good is the movie? Does it deserve to do well at the box office. I give a qualified yes. It’s definitely not up to the standards we’re used to from Pixar or Walt Disney Animation Studios, but for a DisneyToon Studio film, it’s well done. The first act was difficult to watch (boring and sometimes insulting), but when Dusty finally sets off on his adventure the movie gets significantly better. By the end I had forgotten the slow start and was just enjoying myself as the very likable character of Dusty completed his journey.
I was worried that Planes would just be a rehash of Cars and it certainly felt that way at the beginning, but those fears turn out to be mostly unfounded. The leading man that gets sidetracked on his way to a goal and has to find his true self before finding his true destiny is a plot as old as Homer’s Odyssey. So the similarity between Cars and Planes is there, but it fades as the focus on the different legs of Dusty’s race takes center stage.
Planes opens today at a theater near you. If you have youngsters that already love Pixars Cars, you’re safe spending your hard earned cash on a theater ticket. We saw it in 3D, but I think you can’t safely skip the extra charge for that. Everyone else, might want to catch a matinee or perhaps just wait for DVD.