If ever you needed proof that box-office prognostication has the potential to be even more foolish than playing slots, predicting next month’s weather, or reading someone psychically, consider this. If you’d said at the beginning of the summer movie season this year that Planes, the not-very-anticipated-at-all spin-off of the Cars films from a Disney offshoot traditionally known for making direct-to-DVD sequels that are best left ignored, would outgross The Lone Ranger domestically at the box office, people would’ve thought you were begging to be taken away in a straitjacket. Granted, not many film writers were predicting great things for The Lone Ranger, but even if it didn’t hit the multiplexes very hard, it would have to do better than, of all things, Planes, right? Wrong. As of this writing, Planes has grossed $89.8 million in North America, while The Lone Ranger grossed $89.3 million. (Planes is, unlike the Johnny Depp Western, still in some theaters, slowly approaching the $90 million mark.)
Why am I telling you this? Maybe it’s to give a bit of context, or maybe it’s just to be gobsmacked at how well Planes did at the theatrical box office. This film was slated to be, like the Tinker Bell films, another direct-to-DVD film created primarily for Disney to make a bit more cash this year, but then, most likely because John Lasseter willed it into being, Planes landed in theaters in early August. Now, it’s grossed over $200 million worldwide, is spawning at least one sequel (coming this July), and is available on Blu-ray. Maybe you, an avid reader of Sound on Sight, read my review of Planes a few months back. Or perhaps you listened to the Mousterpiece Cinema episode about the film, with guests Mark Pfeiffer and Noel Kirkpatrick. If so, you have noticed a theme: I did not enjoy Planes. And unfortunately, in this case, absence has not made the heart grow fonder.
It took me a few years, but I’ve reached the point where the utter disregard for realism in the so-called “World of Cars” rankles me intensely. Here’s an example (one that I didn’t pick up on until watching the Blu-ray, to be fair): early in the film, our hero Dusty Crophopper is being lectured by his mechanic and friend about his dream to enter a worldwide race with professional racing planes. As Dusty is a crop duster, the mechanic presumes logically that he’d be screwed in any serious race, going so far as pretending to get weepy and frightened after Dusty “dies” in the race. The mechanic references how sad everyone would be, even those at “the orphanage.” Now, I know, it’s potentially a figure of speech. But how are there orphans in the World of Cars? The mother and father planes die in…an accident? A crash? OK, but…how did they have baby planes? How are there baby planes at all? These are the questions I ask myself now, and will find myself asking late one night soon, I’m sure. I get, as I’ve mentioned in the past, that John Lasseter and the people behind this film do not care about making this world one of logic. Just because they don’t care doesn’t mean I don’t have to. So yes, I’m still bothered by this film’s invocation of the Second World War to wring emotion, when there’s no way to name-drop the Battle of Guadalcanal without appearing insensitive. (This, because actual people died in that actual battle, not just planes.)
But I digress. The movie is the movie, and I’ve not grown warmer to it. What of the Blu-ray itself? There are plenty of new Disney Blu-rays coming before the end of the year, from The Lone Ranger to The Great Muppet Caper to Mary Poppins. And we’ve already seen films like Peter Pan and The Little Mermaid get big home media releases, as well. So where does Planes fall? Is this a Blu-ray that, film quality aside, impresses with its special features? Well, here’s the thing: Planes came out on Blu-ray the same day as one of the best films of 2013, The World’s End. And that film’s quality aside, it is positively loaded with supplements; there are multiple commentaries, trailers, art galleries, behind-the-scenes featurettes, outtakes, deleted scenes, and more. Such loaded Blu-rays are now rare, especially of new films, so it’s a genuine pleasure to see the love and care on display. The same cannot be said for the Planes Blu-ray, although one of its special features does offer some twisted insight into the creative process of the film.
There are a grand total of five special features on the Planes Blu-ray, only because one of them has strangely not been categorized as a deleted scene even though that’s exactly what it is. So, including the “exclusive” of “Franz’s Song,” there are three deleted scenes barely amounting to five minutes’ worth of content, outside of the introductions and explanations provided by director Klay Hall and producer Traci Balthazor-Flynn. All of the scenes are forgettable; what makes “Franz’s Song” unique, at least, is that it was fully animated and that it’s not an alternate take on a preexisting scene. The other two deleted scenes are different versions of Dusty’s training montage and his supposedly romantic flyover of India with his love interest, Ishani. It’s slightly more intriguing to hear Hall and Balthazor-Flynn explain why they went in a different direction, but the scenes themselves offer very little entertainment value, even if you’re a diehard fan. Elsewhere, there are four minute-long bits “introducing” us to Dusty, Ishani, and two of the other racers in the worldwide competition; and a six-minute featurette in which ESPN pundit Colin Cowherd (who has a cameo in the film, because why not) discusses the Top 10 Flyers in human history. The content might be better if it didn’t feel so rushed, but as it stands, it’s forgettable at best.
But then there’s the “Klay’s Flight Plan” feature, a 15-minute look into Klay Hall’s family and his passion for planes. An interesting tidbit is that he was originally developing a movie about trains (in the real world), but Lasseter steered him towards Planes instead, tapping into Hall’s love of aviation. This is depicted in talking-head interviews as well as in some footage of Hall taking his two sons to a hangar, showing them some planes, and explaining how his father fought in World War II. This, along with the footage of real-life military consultants who worked on the film, is both illuminating and perplexing. The World War II imagery in this film is all the more troubling for the reasons mentioned above, as well as because Hall clearly had the best of intentions in mind as he worked on this project. Intent and execution are different things, of course; while I respect that the filmmakers attempted to get all the details correct, it all lacks humanity.
There’s a moment in that featurette where Hall gets into the cockpit of an old plane in that hangar, and you can see the palpable excitement on his face as he looks over his instruments. The thrill of getting behind such a mammoth vehicle, which culminates in the featurette with Hall and his sons riding in military fighter jets, is something absent from Planes, just as the joy of controlling a vehicle of any kind is absent from all films in the World of Cars. Specific to the Blu-ray, if you want to get Planes, you’ll be spending more than 20 bucks to get the movie and just that. And if you don’t want to get Planes, well…nothing on this Blu-ray will convince you otherwise. If you have kids who need to be distracted for a couple hours, yes, this might suffice. But so would most of Pixar’s films. Or most Disney films. Or most kids’ television. Or a book. Or a board game. Or chess. You catch my drift.
— Josh Spiegel