As Disney’s Planes taxis up the runway to the local cinema it looks very much like a classic ‘underdog comes out on top’ story. But however encouraging its crop-dusting hero could be for kids, there are some heights to which we were never meant to aspire.
In many respects Planes is a well-thought out extension of Disney’s stupendously successful Cars franchise. Though the executive producer of the film, John Lasseter, has gone to some pains to assure the public he’s not mining that automobile money-spinner, the flying characters co-exist alongside of vehicles very much like those in Cars and Cars 2 and the plot centres on another hopeful outsider in a very big race. Oh, and opening the feature with a huge graphic that says, ‘From the World of Cars’ is something of a giveaway.
So, how do the films differ?
Well, if Cars was all about ‘Pride comes before a fall’, then Planes mirrors the proverb ‘A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.’ Dusty Crophopper is a farm plane that dreams of more than spraying pesticide on the wheat fields of small town America. With the support of his fuel-truck friend Chug and forklift mechanic Dottie he applies for the prestigious Wings Around The World race. Of course the event puts him up against the world’s best long-distance flyers and it doesn’t look good when we learn that Dusty is also afraid of heights. Add to the mix the villainous three-time champion Ripslinger – think Cars’ Chick Hicks with wings – and things aren’t looking good. But Dusty manages to win the respect of aged air ace Skipper – that would be Cars’ Doc, also with wings – and, with his advice, sets off to conquer the world with a humility that sees the rest of the field as potential friends rather than competitors to overcome. Which sets up Planes for its primary moral…
Audiences are familiar with the life-lessons animations attempt to teach, so it won’t come as a surprise when Ripslinger says to Dusty,
“Nice job – and we all know where nice guys finish. Dead last.”
– which, without giving away the ending, is just stated so the plot can show the bad guy how wrong he is. In fact it’s a truth that I’m very happy for my kids to learn: you don’t have to sacrifice your values in order to get ahead. The Bible expresses this principle in many ways, including,
“Whoever is kind to the poor lends to the Lord, and He will reward them for what they have done.”
Of course the context a parent has to add is that though God never forgets a kind act done in His name, He may choose to hold back His reward till Heaven. However Planes is another film following that disturbing trend of elevating the individual over the Creator we’re supposed to love and trust.
Parents will be used to storylines that encourage their kids to overcome negative stereotypes (Ratatouille), social restrictions (Monsters University) and family fears (Hotel Transylvania) but recently Hollywood has begun encouraging children to overcome boundaries put in place by birth. In Turbo everyone comes to realise that just because the hero Theo is a snail doesn’t mean he can’t be a supersonic racer, and in Planes Dusty and his supporters set their sites on exceeding the limitations of their designs:
Franz: “You’re an inspiration to all of us.”
Dusty: “All of us? “
Franz: “Yes, all of us who want to do more than we were built for. “
It seems fairly encouraging for Dusty to dream to overcome his build, but by making ‘Mother Nature’ or the implied ‘Designer’ the barrier we teach our kids to question the wrong sort of wisdom. I would want my boys to think very carefully about restrictions society places on people simply because they are man-made rules, and so subject to sin and error. But they’re able to do that with confidence because, first of all, I’m teaching them that there is a Creator who sits above our earthly intelligence, whose decisions they can trust above everything else.
Release Date: September 19