Disney’s Planes Movie–A Realistic Fake

The airplanes in Disney’s Planes movie that will be previewed on the big screen at Oshkosh on Friday, August 2, are animations. That means, of course, the airplanes in the movie aren’t real. The airplanes have mouths, and eyes and they talk, something I haven’t encountered yet in real airplanes.

But in an important way Disney’s Planes airplanes actually fly, which is a welcome change from the way aircraft of all sorts are typically shown in feature films these days. Planes is a movie for kids. Talking airplanes can hold the attention of youngsters, and tell a story, but these planes won’t mislead our kids and grandkids the way aircraft in other action movies do.

Once upon a time movie makers attached cameras to real airplanes to show viewers what it was like to fly. The very first Oscar winner for best picture, Wings, was such an amazing display of World War I era fighter aerial action photography that it blew away early talking pictures to win. Most movie experts agree it was the flying action sequences more than the acting or storyline that made Wings such a sensation. And there were more than a few mishaps during filming.

In more recent times aerial footage was a staple in the Bond movies. When that BD-5 jet flew through the hangar in Octopussy that was a real BD-5 flown by a real pilot, Corkey Fornof. The snake in the biplane when Harrison Ford was launching the Indiana Jones series of action movies was a real airplane—and I think a real snake.

For many pilots the all-time best flying action movie was Top Gun. The aerial scenes in that movie were spectacular, and extremely real. The flat spin scene was so authentic that Art Scholl was killed trying to capture the film. Art had cameras attached to a Pitts that would show the pilot’s eye view of the spin with absolute realism, so real, in fact, that something went wrong and Art was unable to recover from the spin before crashing into the ocean.

The first conversation I ever had with Harrison Ford about airplanes in the movies was before Six Days Seven Nights, an action feature he and a de Havilland Beaver starred in was about to be released. Harrison began by apologizing to me in a pilot-to-pilot way for some of the unrealistic aviation liberties that I would see in the film. He pointed out that total aviation authenticity often gets in the way of entertainment for non-pilots, and entertainment was the necessary objective of the movie. When I saw the movie I understood what he meant, but the flying scenes and views out of the cockpit were of a real DHC-2 actually flying. The movie script was pretty much a gagger, but the flying scenes came close to saving the day for pilots.

But in the past several years animation technology has forced real airplanes out of the movies. Real airplanes can’t make 100-foot radius turns between buildings while flying at 300 knots. But computer created aircraft can. Action movies over the past 15 or 20 years show all sorts of mostly rocket powered airplanes flying in ways that are simply not aerodynamically possible. The idea of sending a pilot like Art Scholl out to film actual airplane maneuvering has become laughable to the people who make an endless series of post-apocalyptic shoot ‘em ups.

The creators of Disney’s Planes movie have gone the other way. They have taken great pains to show that airplanes need airspeed and thrust to fly. The airplanes bank and turn at believable and generally realistic rates. The airplanes even takeoff and land, something other special effect aircraft don’t ever bother with.

The plot of Planes is totally unrealistic. Dusty, a crop duster that looks a lot like an Air Tractor, is afraid of heights, but wants to compete in an air race. All of us who fly know that the only sensation of height while flying is when we are low and close to terrain. And air races take place at absurdly low altitudes. But the movie creators do need a plot line and that’s it.

I don’t expect you to be enthralled with Planes but I am encouraged that if you take your kids or grandkids to see it at AirVenture in a few weeks they won’t be totally mislead by what they see. Though these Planes talk, and emote at least they sort of behave like real airplanes in the air. And that’s more than any of us can expect from other new movies that include aviation action.

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13 Responses to Disney’s Planes Movie–A Realistic Fake

  1. William McIntosh says:

    All airplanes are transportation machines that fly through the air. The basic purpose is transportation, and that would include Tom’s F-14, and Patty’s 300, which were and are stressed for aerobatics. Any departure from that basic purpose, such as aerobatics, is staged and misleading, and adds a new element of risk to the already risky proposition of aerial transportation. Real airliners don’t fly upside down-for very long- and real airline pilots usually have their drinking under control…if they drink at all.

    The airshow crowd is a finite and static group of the already-seen-that, and mostly seem to gather to see other and a few well-known acts. That’s fine, but the “action”
    in an airshow is ultimately unrewarding if you are simply looking for something new in aviation. Airshow announcers intone, “flying is easy, just like driving a car…”… really? So after I saw the Concorde depart Waco, TX at one airshow, fly out over the Caribbean supersonic, and return a couple of hours later and land with a load of memory-of-a-lifetime passengers, I didn’t go back to an airshow. I’d already just seen what was currently possible with aviation. One wonders about the possibilities if the stupid supersonic rule was lifted. Airplanes are built for speed.

    I look forward to “Planes” as an imaginative animation of a realistic scenario. I wasn’t that thrilled with “Top Gun,” which starred Tom Cruise as an F-14. My vote for best aviation movie goes to “Memphis Belle,” without question.

    Today the very best aviation movies are being shot on You Tube, where everyday pilots are sharting their experiences. Check out, for example, “debar the pilot.” there.
    He’s already made over 175 aviation -related videos, and the last one was his first solo, a few days ago. He’s 16. Now, THAT’S exciting.

  2. Harold Bickford says:

    “Strategic Air Command” and “Spirit of St. Louis” with Jimmy Stewart seem to me to be two really good aviation themed films. The “Spirit” is likely closer to what EAA encompasses. The recreation of the Ryan shops and characters in San Diego evokes the era.
    “Planes”, as in “Cars” uses recreations of motion actually exhibited. Though less sophisticated due to the state of the art circa 1976, “Star Wars” sequences borrowed from film footage of aerial combat.
    It also seems clear that we watch movies mostly for entertainment value knowing that for a couple of hours we can go to another world.

  3. Bill Paschal says:

    Seems to me that a first-rate kid’s movie featuring likeable, talking GA airplanes might add some much needed energy to flying in general and inspire a new generation of young people to check out flying and aviation. For many us, our love of aviation began when we were young, and I suspect most of us can recall a specific childhood memory of when our interest ( followed by passion) for aviation began. Mine was as a four year old flying from Syracuse to Chicago with my Grandfather in an American Airlines Lockheed L-188 Electra. I can still see the slowly turning props, belching smoke, and that wonderful sound as each engine was started. That was it, I was hooked. Here’s hoping that “Planes” will do something similar for a millions of young children – and maybe even their parents!

  4. Chris Christiansen says:

    I’m going to disagree on this one. The reason airplanes are not in the movies anymore, is the same reason barnstorming isn’t around either. We’ve become a “safest” society that’s scared of dying or putting anyone in harms way. CGI has allowed us to remove ourselves from the risk, the same as drones now fight our battles. Has this writer not seen the popularity of Red Bull air races, where granted its not 100 foot radius turns at 300knots but its darn close. To want realism in film is a personal preference and most writers forget the fact that their articles are biased on their perception of reality. Go ask EAA, Sean Tucker, Patty Wagstaff and the throngs of onlookers seated on the Oshkosh grounds during an aerobatic routine if they want realism.

  5. John Maxfield says:

    Now I’m not saying Mac got his private pilots license in a jet, and I’m not say’n he didn’t. I’ve got type ratings in planes as big as Mac does and flown them just as far, and I’m betting he’s going to be there watching the premier of Planes with the rest of us next month. And if he doesn’t have tears of Joy in his eyes along with the rest of us, I’ll miss my guess! Dusty the crop duster is our equal to Thomas the train. We should ALL hope that Dusty’s young audience is just as intrested in aviation and catch the flying bug like we have. And we should promote it, equally as well. Just like the kids aviation story book, “Buster BT” that I cought the flying bug from back in the 60′s. I don’t know about you Mac, but I’m going to get there early for a good seat!

    Happy Landings

  6. Randy Beloff says:

    First off, the greatest aviation movie of all time is “The Great Waldo Pepper”. I took my mother, who hated me flying, to see it as double feature with a movie she wanted to see. On the way out of the theater, she said, “Now I understand why you fly.” She has never complained about me flying again. Movies that can make that kind of impact on a non-flyer are important and more need to be made.

    “Planes” has the potential to become another Disney franchise, like “Cars”. A whole section of Disney’s California Adventure theme park is devoted to the “Cars” world. That means not only rides and restaurants, but lots of “Cars” related stuff to buy. Just think of what it would be like to go to a major theme park and find a aviation themed land with aviation rides, restaurants and lots “airplane” related stuff to buy.

    Kids of all ages relate to inanimate objects talking to them. This could be the “Sky King” of the new century and inspire multitudes of young people to set their eyes to the sky.

    Speaking of inanimate objects talking Mac, my Luscombe talked to me, every time I touched the stick, as did most of the other aircraft I’ve flown over the years.

    In conclusion, anything that portrays aviation and the people involved in aviation in positive light, we should rally behind it and give it all the support we possibly can.

  7. Rich Fleming says:

    I knew nothing about “Planes” until I read this article, so thanks, Mac. It didn’t seem to me that he was “dissing” this film. I would describe CGI aircraft in other films as “incredible”, in other words NOT credible. Of course the same applies to the best car chases/shootouts/combat scenes we have all “enjoyed” for years. IMHO a certain film shown last year at A/V, which will remain nameless, lost me when B-17s exploded in fireballs after a few rounds from an Me-109! Really? 88mm flak could do that but m/g fire? Boeing could sue for slander as it’s product (B-17s) were tough birds! Not to mention the bogus flying… I thought Mac might mention this film, but it’s just not PC to critcize it. To each his or her own.

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