PLANES – 3D Blu-ray review

Nearly every time Disney releases a major animated feature, some fly-by-night outfit tries to catch a tailwind and market a generic DVD by the same title (since titles can’t be copyrighted), hoping that enough confused people will pick up their cheap imitation and not bother to return it once they realize what they’ve done.

So imagine my surprise when I popped in “Planes” and it didn’t feel like a Disney movie at all. It felt like one of those flat knockoffs.

John Lasseter is credited with coming up with the basic story, but I can’t imagine that he’s pleased with the way “Planes” turned out. The animation may be up to Disney standards, but nothing else is.

For one thing, “Planes” lacks the kind of emotional core that powers most Disney movies—even anthropomorphic outings like “Cars.” But while the vehicles in that 2006 marvel were dripping with personality despite being nothing more than hunks of metal with faces, these planes seem dull and lifeless.

My sense is that the animators found that they had less to work with when the characters’ appendages were rigid wings, and the propeller on each one’s nose limited the variations they could come up with on the front end. So they have mouths and they mouth lines, but you never really develop the same attachment to them as you did with other Disney characters in other Disney movies. This isn’t just idle speculation. I found that the on-ground vehicles in the movie had much more personality than the planes.

Then too, when you market something as being “from above the world of ‘Cars’” you set yourself up for comparison, and comparatively speaking “Planes” suffers. It doesn’t have the rich texture of the world of “Cars,” because the world of “Planes” is too similar.

It’s also like one of those Saturday morning cartoon specials that gives us a race of some sort and an underdog competing against an arrogant favorite. We’ve seen it all before, and there’s no detour to a small place like Radiator Springs to contrast the comparatively shallow world of racing and to provide much-needed depth. “Planes” flies a pretty straight narrative route, with a crop duster named Dusty Crophopper (Dane Cook) wanting to be more than what he was built for.

Just as the hero in “Cars” had an older mentor, Dusty has Skipper (Stacy Keach) to advise him, and the cocky champion-to-beat is Ripslinger (Roger Craig Smith). He also has a boss (Cedric the Entertainer) who thinks his spare-time flying maneuvers are a waste of time. But in no time at all Dusty is entering to qualify for the Wings Across the World race, and even though he doesn’t place, he’s very quickly told that the 5th place finisher used an illegal fuel enhancer, which allows him to compete in the big race.

But let’s talk about pacing. I would have much rather seen a Radiator Springs slowdown where Dusty faces his apparent fate and viewers have some time to sympathize with his disappointment of a shattered dream. But director Klay Hall (“Tinker Bell and the Lost Treasure”) seems to be in too big of a hurry to get to the big race, thereby creating a narrative arc as simple as flights were before airlines created hubs, connecting flights, and overbooking.

As a result, I didn’t care, my kids didn’t care, and if I had invited the neighbors over to witness this dull flight, they wouldn’t have cared either.

Meh.

Video:
At least Disney didn’t go the full Saturday morning route. Though “Planes” doesn’t have the “wow” factor of “Cars,” it’s a vividly animated movie with bright colors, solid black levels, and a level of depth you’d expect from a film that was originally intended for direct-to-DVD release but moved to a theatrical release when the studio went 3D.

In 3D the feature is much more interesting than in standard Blu-ray, though most of the 3D effects are depth-of-perception rather than pop-out illusion. The movie feels bolder, though, and I wish that translated as well to the standard Blu-ray release . . . but it doesn’t. Both the 3D and standard Blu-ray look wonderful, but looks aren’t everything.

The AVC/MPEG-4 transfer is decent, but there were several annoying instances of banding that I noticed. “Planes” is presented in 1.78:1 aspect ratio.

This combo pack contains a 3D Blu-ray, Blu-ray, DVD, and Digital Copy.

Audio:
The featured audio is a robust English DTS-HD MA 7.1, and I don’t have any complaints. The effects, music, and dialogue are nicely mixed, and sound moves logically across the field when planes are in the air. It’s no “Top Gun,” but you do get that effect.

Additional audio options are 2.0 DVS, French DTS-HDHR 7.1, and Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1. Subtitles are in English SDH, French, and Spanish.

Extras:
I’ll be honest. After slogging through this film I had zero energy to watch the bonus features, so I just skimmed through them. Included are a handful of deleted scenes, a history-oriented “Top Ten Flyers” hosted by ESPN Radio’s Colin Cowherd that’s not bad, a “Meet the Racers” that’s the obligatory round-up of character sketches, “Klay’s Flight Plan” (a jazzy name for director’s comments), and the animated “Franz’s Song,” a segment that didn’t make it into the movie.

Bottom line:
I hate to say it, especially so close to Thanksgiving, but “Planes” is a turkey. And turkeys can’t fly either.

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