We love Disney movies. We own several (and the dolls, and the video games, and branded Memory sets.) I think John Lasseter is a genius and we are often quoting his films- from Toy Story to Brave to the ever-quotable Finding Nemo. These features are enduring, they speak to human truths and the things that hide in our hearts and are more human than most movies with actual live acting humans.
Once in a while, I have the privilege of viewing a Disney movie with the kids as a blog perk. They never ask me to write about it, they never require glowing reviews, they just know I write online and offer me a spot in front of the silver screen.
We recently previewed Disney’s Planes, the new animated feature that takes place in the same world as Cars. I took Miss A to her first movie-theater ever (I think she’s a little too young still- she ended up curled up on my lap but was impressed with “The Biggest TV I Ever SEEN!”) and had a few of her older brothers and sisters with me too.
Planes features Dusty the crop duster who dreams of being a racer. Yes, he’s afraid of heights but he also is tired of doing the same thing day after day. ”I’ve flown thousands of miles, and I’ve never been anywhere!” he says.
Dusty decides to try out for the big aerial race. He surprises everyone who think crop dusters aren’t racing material but he doesn’t make it. Awww. However at the last minute he’s admitted to the race. Yay. He competes against the fasted and best planes in the world, including the jerky RipSlinger who never met a camera he didn’t like. The other planes are rude and dismiss him, but Dusty is a nice guy who helps them out and eventually they are all friends. RipSlinger plays dirty, there are close calls, our hero almost has to drop out. But of course he doesn’t and he wins the race, the end.
My 6 year old boy and my elementary school girls loved it.
I did not.
It’s predictable and plodding, a typical Disney underdog movie. Plucky, lovable character wants more, is told he can’t do it,there’s a big race, he’s a nice guy but doesn’t finish last. I think that’s okay, especially in a movie targeted to kids. They like knowing the good guy wins in the end. Keep trying and you can overcome the odds is a good message. There’s a reason children’s stories are formulaic. This movie is follows the formula and never deviates, not even when the audience is ready for a funny joke or tender scene. Disney’s phoning it in on this one.
Disney’s Planes has no heart. There are no moments that cause poignant reflection and even tears, such as in Toy Story 3. This is no Brave. There are no parallels to universal truths, no resonance, no reason to find any inspiration from any of the characters. It’s flat.
The best thing that can be said about it is that it’s adequate children’s entertainment for those times when you just need to get something done.
My problems are more philosophical.
I have to admit my own quirkiness. I’ve been doing research on crop dusting and migrant workers for a future post (I do sometimes post on those Foodie Issues, like when I wrote about High Fructose Corn Syrup, Drug Testing for Food Stamps, or Why We Shouldn’t Ban Happy Meals. I have opinions on our food!) The movie opens with Dusty spraying the fields and my mind immediately went to a news story I had just read about migrant workers being crop dusted in the field. One worker was several months pregnant and went into labor; her child didn’t survive. I suppose that’s just bad timing; I had read that article less than 24 hours before seeing the film. Crop dusting has also been linked to lower IQs in children. These are dangerous chemicals that hurt kids, though the first few minutes of the film are spent remarking on the noble process of crop spraying. Seriously, could they have picked a puddle jumper or commuter plane instead?
There is some surprising violence. Dusty’s mentor, Skipper, served in wartime and at one point he recounts the turning point in his military career. That turning point was when his entire squadron was shot down and killed over the Pacific, and there is a graphic scene of all of Skippers friends being shot at by anti-aircraft missiles, exploding, dying, and sinking into the ocean. At this point in the movie, the planes are our friends. Skipper is a father figure to Dusty and he is shot down and sinks below the waves, too. It’s pretty intense for a little guy who has identified with these characters, it’s an Old Yeller moment that parents should be prepared for.
You also should be aware that bars are the social spot in the film. There are scenes in montage of Irish pubs filled with working class forklifts commenting on Dusty’s chances. At one point, Dusty is depressed because he is in last place. He bellies up to the bar and the bartender says “You sad? You DRINK!” and makes sure Dusty can drown his sadness with plenty to drink. I personally felt this detail was a little adult for a kids movie, over all. I can see “You Sad You DRINK” becoming a popular drinking meme (among adults, hopefully!)
My biggest single beef with the movie- and something that makes it unlikely we’ll be adding this to our DVD library- has to do with the female characters. I’m not usually one to jump on this bandwagon, but I feel like parents need to know about the underlying objectification of females that is rampant throughout the film.
There are 3 ‘big’ female characters:
Dottie, the helpful forklift mechanic who tells Dusty he can’t make it as a racer, but tries to help him anyway. Dottie is often misunderstood and when she talks technical and smart people don’t understand until she dumbs it down. She really knows her stuff but no one cares, they just want her to shut up and fix things.
Ishani is a racing plane that Dusty admires (more on this later). She tricks him using her feminine wiles, bought off by the egomaniac alpha-male RipSlinger who gives her trinkets (a new propeller) in exchange for lying and manipulating Dusty. She later regrets it when Dusty shows he has more moral fiber than the other planes (and starts winning the race, that really tips her over to Team Dusty.)
Rochelle is the French Canadian racing plane who basically serves as a romantic object of attention, a prize to be won. Later her character develops a bit and we learn that once romanced properly (candlelight, hot air balloons, sweet serenades) she can’t control herself, showering kisses on her new boyfriend.
And therein is the problem. The two actual female planes in the movie are just objects.
When we first meet Ishani, Dusty admires her body and sleek lines. As she sashays away, he admires her backside with a low “Look at the propeller on her!” Remember, this is the hero, the character with the most moral fiber in the entire movie blatantly ogling the female backend.
It’s worse when we meet Rochelle for the first time. Passionate character El Chupacabra sees her from behind and spends a bit of time admiring every part of her back end and landing gear, deciding just from drooling over her derriere that she is “an angel” and he must have her. No need to for personality or compatibility, just pink curves and long eyelashes. For the remainder of the movie she is his “target” to be acquired. Rochelle never really has any purpose except as an object of romantic pursuit. She is never in the lead, she never appears at a pivotal moment, she barely utters any lines at all.
Yes, they are planes but the planes are anthropomorphized. We are supposed to identify with them as people, and think of them as friends.
I’m not sure these “friends” are the best role models for my sons, and I cringe to think of my daughters watching this movie and deciding to sway their own backends to get attention from males.
Two thumbs down, Disney.
(PS- WHY is there a sequel already in the works for THIS movie but not for Brave or Up or WALL-E? Give us some more of that please!)
Blogging with Integrity: I was given a complimentary pass to this movie but not required to post about it. My children loved it. Sorry I don’t have any fun printables or images to accompany this post; in order to use them I have to agree not to criticize the movie and I just can’t recommend this film to families. Don’t tell my kids I wrote this, they’ll be mad if I get kicked off the movie list for being a Negative Nellie!