Review first published by Film4.
Synopsis: Is it a bird? Is it a plane? It’s Su… No, it’s a plane. Klay Hall’s Cars spin-off takes John Lasseter’s vehicular world to the air.
Review: Though massively successful with young boys (who are the target audience), Cars (2006) and Cars 2 (2011) failed to gain the near-universal critical acclaim typically reserved for Pixar animation – and now Planes, the first in a projected trilogy of Cars spin-offs to be produced by DisneyToons rather than Pixar (although Cars director John Lasseter lends his imprimatur as executive producer), seems likely to meet with a similarly indifferent reception, at least from adult viewers.
There is nothing wrong with a racing-oriented true underdog story for children, even one that reappropriates wholesale (to a new aeronautical setting) several plot points and even character types (the hick sidekick, the old-timer mentor, etc.) from the original Cars – but in a world populated by vaguely anthropomorphised vehicles, but without even a trace of human presence (unlike every other Pixar film), all manner of distracting questions undermine any real chance of suspending disbelief.
“I can do more than what I was built for,” declares acrophobic cropduster Dusty, who dreams of racing. But built by whom (if not by humans)? Why bother even dusting crops? Why would another plane wear lipstick (leaving kiss marks on her beloved)? Why would cars go to a sushi bar? Why are outlines of planes discernible in the rockscapes of the Grand Canyon? Why is the Statue of Liberty a giant forklift? If this is a parallel Earth from which humans are totally absent (unlike the worlds of, say, Toy Story, A Bug’s Life or Finding Nemo, which are hidden within the human world), what are all these vehicles even for, anyway? Alternatively, where are the humans? The Cars/Planes universe makes sense neither as human microcosm, nor even on its own terms, creating an uncanny valley more conceptual than visual. Of course the visuals themselves are perfect.
In A Nutshell: A blend of spectacular visuals, very conventional storytelling and distracting does-not-compute detail, Planes would fly beneath the radar were it not for its Pixar connections.