Thursday, August 22, 2013

What's Next?? 'TRAINS'???

As big a fan as I am, I rarely find the new Disney movies to be “Must See in the Theater” events. It's not that I don't enjoy them, but I guess... Well... I should just...

I have an addiction. I don't drink. I don't do drugs. I don't buy hookers....

I go to movies by myself... like... all the time.

Whenever I have an opportunity on an off day, I hit a matinee and I love it. It's my quiet time. I get to see allllll of the crappy movies that my wife doesn't care about or just doesn't want to see. It's fantastic. My friend, a guy with a degree in film, once said to me “Doesn't it get expensive going to all of those movies?” and I simply told him that I didn't think it was any more expensive than drinking at a bar once or twice a week. That seemed to make a lot of sense to him.

In any case, one of the only things I ever feel weird about is going to see kids movies alone. I'll pretty much see anything. I went to see 'Magic Mike' alone, and I was not ashamed. Still, the prospect of appearing to be a creepy dude watching what would ostensibly be a kid's movie all by himself while surrounded by many children and their parents... this is not a scenario I relish.

Of course, you and I know that Disney movies are definitely not JUST for kids, but that's not necessary a position I want to defend at the movie theater, so I usually just wait for them to come out on BluRay, or even better, I make my wife join me. We saw 'Up' on one of our first dates, and it was fantastic.

Anyway, I wanted to see a movie today, and the pickings are slim, so I decided to suck it up and see 'Planes'. I even selected the 3D screening. I can't say I was overly excited to see the movie. Cars is probably my least favorite of the Pixar films, and it's difficult to see how this movie would be all that much different. I was even sort of viewing it as a spin-off, if not directly a sequel.

But you know? 'Planes' wasn't all that bad. I would even venture to say that it was largely successful, if not particularly indelible. It definitely deserves a better MetaScore than its current 39. That's just ridiculous.

So here are some thoughts.

The Good.
- The Message.. Yes, the notion that any Disney movie needs to have a message is perhaps a bit outdated, and has always been something of a source of derision for the haters out there. Well, you know what? It's a damned movie that is meant to appeal to children, and I just don't see the downside to presenting the little tots some food for thought. The message of this movie is that you shouldn't allow society to tell that you're not good enough or strong enough to achieve your dreams just because of your station in life. The movie is about a Crop Duster plane named Dusty who dreams of being a racing plane, and is constantly told that he can't for no better reason than “You're a crop duster”.

- The Visuals... I wouldn't go so far as to claim the visuals in this movie are on the level as Wall-E or Finding Nemo, but comparing a movie to 2 of the 5 move visually stunning animated films of the past 20 years isn't particularly fair. 'Planes' presents a visual world that is very similar to Cars in that it brings the lines and silhouettes that are familiar in aviation to the natural environment. The flying animations are beautifully done, the different geographies you see as the movie takes you around the world are stunning. It's really a great looking movie. If 'Cars' hadn't already done it, I'd even say it was ground breaking. I don't see a “Planes Land”” in the near future, but I can definitely see some of the characters from Planes showing up in Cars Land. They belong together.

The Not as Good
- Dane Cook. Look, I know it's become popular to bash Dane Cook at any turn, and I don't hate the guy, but I really don't understand what Disney was doing here with this casting choice. He's not at the peak of his fame, which would have made at least some sense (though he's probably totally unknown to a large group of the viewers of this movie), he's not really an actor at all as much as a personality. Sadly, that personality is sort of unpleasant, and there's something about the way he articulates words that makes me want to punch him, so it was very difficult to get past that. Not so great since he's the lead character. Even with Larry the Cable Guy in Cars, you've got a much better argument for casting him. He was HUGE at the time, and more importantly, he was basically asked to play the character in the movie that he already plays on stage. Not the case here.

- The Romances... Okay, so here's where I'm gonna get weird. I don't understand how Cars or Airplanes can have romantic relationships. I don't want to think about how. I don't want to be forced to imagine the mechanics (pun intended) of their intimacy. Where do baby cars come from? Who's building them? Where to the propellers go? I realize this is juvenile, but this is what watching two airplanes romancing each other makes me think about. I will say that the scene where the Mexican plane is serenading the French Canadian (Why French Canadian and not just French?) plane is very entertaining and the slow, Spanish Guitar rendition of “Love Machine” is fantastic. Yes... it's a weird movie.

The Muddy
- The Message. “Wait, Muchacho! You already said the message was a good thing!”
That's true, but that's without any dissection, also. Once you start to think about it, and once the movie plays out, you start to see that they're also sort of saying that while that crop duster should totally go after his goal of being a racer, in order to succeed he's going to have to fully change himself to do it, including removing the one piece of mechanics that makes him a crop duster to begin with. So... yeah... maybe they could have figured out another way to get from A to Z.

Me Intellectualizing Things
So really, why is Planes being so negatively received? I think it has mostly to do with two things:

1) It's very similar to 'Cars', which isn't universally beloved by adults to start with. It's easily the most kid-targeted of all of the Pixar flicks, and I imagine that doesn't go over that well.

2) People love to build something up to iconic status and then tear it down. The world is full of examples. Tiger Woods, Britney Spears, Metallica, Pete Rose. Now... to some degree it could be argued that each of those examples had at least some hand in their own unmaking, but in each case there are examples of the same people writing odes to their greatness subsequently feasting on the bones of their downfall.

At some point, Pixar was bound to experience a backlash. Once the kids who grew up on Toy Story and Nemo and Monsters Inc were adults and the movies weren't hitting the same emotional spot for them, possibly just because they're at different places emotionally within their lives... you get the idea. At some point it's impossible to separate the historical greatness from the new product. The only thing that suffers is the new product.

My fellow blogger, DJPhob wrote about Horizons at Walt Disney World and the complete nostalgia a certain block of fans has for it, and I've heard many people bemoan the downfall of Disney (even right here on my own blog in the comments section), and I wonder if that's fair. Is it fair to judge something against their own lofty standard, when it's also mixed with nostalgia (a thing that is literally undefeated in this game.

I just wonder if that's what's happening with 'Planes'. If Planes had come out in 1996 instead of Toy Story, and there had been no history of these remarkable cinematic achievements every year for the next 12 years... Would it be the greatest thing ever? Maybe not, but certainly better than a 39 on MetaCritic. That's ridiculous.


  1. I took Sam to see Planes and... well, meh. It wasn't that it was a bad movie per se, but... ok, it's billed as being "from above the world of Cars" or something along those lines so I would expect the world to have the same look, etc. but the plot and character types were nearly a direct lift from Cars. I get that there are staples in movies like this: the plucky underdog hero, the goofy sidekick, etc. but the movie overall just felt like a retread of Cars to me. For example, the cocky and underhanded rival... it was Chick Hicks with wings. The "crusty old loner with a secret in his past that begrudgingly becomes the mentor of the plucky hero," Stacy Keach, while he did a fine job, played a character that was note-for-note rehash of Paul Newman's Doc Hudson.

    I liked Cars, disliked Cars 2 (it was just too disjointed and lacked the charm of the first movie) but Planes felt to me like a blatant cash-grab. Yeah, I know movies exist to make money for the people who create them, especially animated kids' movies with lots and lots of toy tie-ins, but Pixar is typically above the average when it comes to creating worlds and memorable characters that, despite being the usual archetypes, have something about them... some spark that makes them unique and interesting. "Up" is a perfect example. Sure, again the stock characters - kid and grumpy grownup who eventually is won over - but the writing of the characters, their back stories, made them fully-realized characters. The first 15 minutes or so of that movie made me sob without the use of much dialogue, if any at all. That's something, there. And it's that "something" that Planes didn't seem to have - a heart. Even Sam, who I must, as his father, proclaim to be smarter than the average kid, when I asked him how he liked "Planes" could only muster an, "It was... okay."

  2. i think that bouts would cool