Voices: Dane Cook, Ed Harris, Teri Hatcher
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Runtime: 84 minutes
TO everything there is a season. Not with animated movies, not any more. School holidays and Christmas were traditionally their release windows, when Oscar contenders were largely out of the way, families were together, and children were in need of distractions.
Today, it is a free for all, with animated films jostling for your box office buck almost every week, either in the cinema or on DVD. Why? Because there is gold in them thar family films. How much gold was revealed when Toy Story 3 (2010) became the first animated movie to bust through the billion dollar earnings ceiling. That achievement has now been overtaken by Frozen, Disney's Oscar-winning blockbuster of last year, with its worldwide earnings now standing at $1.2 billion (£749 million) gross. That is a lot of pocket money. Compare these numbers with the earnings of some of last year's best picture Oscar contenders - American Hustle ($215 million) and Dallas Buyers Club ($55 million) - and one can see why the film industry loves its 'toons.
Arriving on a runway near you tomorrow is Planes 2: Fire and Rescue, the follow-up to last year's offering from Disney. With the voices of Ed Harris, Teri Hatcher, and Dane Cook, this tale of a crop duster plane joining the emergency services is not so much another another Frozen as a distinctly lukewarm reheat of a concept that struggled to work the first time and is even less successful on a second outing.
This time, the picture starts with Dusty Crophopper (Dane Cook) on a high. Now a famous racer instead of just another piece of farm machinery, Dusty is living a glamorous life, his future one of global travel, public appearances, and tipping a wing to the fans.
But wait, there is a dirty great dust cloud on the horizon. It is the law in Hollywood that films must conform to a three act structure. Our hero must be given a challenge to surmount, a tragedy to overcome, so that the story has a beginning, middle and end. Lost love, danger, calamity, disgrace, penury, illness… the peaks to climb can be many and varied. In Dusty's case, the Everest is a faulty gearbox.
Yes, you read that correctly. This is a film that expects audiences to thrill to a story built around a mechanical defect. What next, an animated film about rushing to meet a tax deadline?
But that is the trouble with Planes, as was the woe with Cars, its animated forebear. Essentially, the filmmakers are asking audiences to relate to lumps of metal. Sure, the animators have given them all the features meant to inspire empathy and lovability: eyes, noses, smiles, and any number of other boomps-a-daisies. Each character has been given a personality, be it the plucky youngster determined to do his best (Dusty), the old timer (Mayday), the brusque but heroic helicopter Blade Ranger, and the too-slick-by-half park chief Cad Spinner. Yet they remain hunks of steel.
So when it emerges that Dusty's gearbox cannot be fixed and he has to find another career in fire and rescue it is a struggle to care. But what does this matter, you might wonder, when there are spectacular fires to fight and animated landscapes to swoop over? Bobs Gannaway's picture does have some dazzling sequences, Dusty flying through the eye of a blaze being one, and the big skies landscape is rendered magnificently.
Fires, jeopardy, life or death moments, all set to a banging rock soundtrack. It should be exciting and involving, but an animated film worth the admission price still needs characters to care about at its heart, and Planes: Fire and Rescue does not have them. There is no sense of peril, despite what is happening on screen.
Doubtless there will be some very young cinemagoers who will find some of this involving, as there were with Cars and the first Planes, But such is the standard of family films now that pleasing some of the audience a tiny bit of the time will not do any more. The season for that is over.
Scotland only from tomorrow; rest of UK from August 8.