If Planes Didn’t Soar, Wings Crashes and Burns
Not to be confused with the 1927 silent war film or long-standing unrelated sitcom series of the same name, Wings is the 2012 Russian CG animated film known as Jets for most of the world. Perhaps the name change was due to the fact that given its uncanny similarity to the much more popular (and just better in general Disney franchise Planes), so similar a title encroached upon copyright infringement. I suspect if there’s one thing LionsGate would like to try to avoid in the situation, it would be Disney’s legal department. And while comparisons are inevitable, the inferior Wings isn’t quite the train wreck (plane crash?) it could have been given the deplorable method of its domestic existence.
Wings, like countless other films in the direct-to-dvd CG film genre before it, is in fact a foreign film that receives a dubbed English vocal track, a new name and is pawned off as an original movie. In the event that this is the first of my reviews you’ve encountered, let me just summarize years worth of complaining on the subject into a single sentence: Rarely does this technique work. On its simplest level- there is the matter of matching mouth flaps of another language into English so that the whole piece doesn’t resemble a Godzilla movie from the 1960s. On its most complex, there is the issue of cultural difference and the timing of natural conversational flow. More often than not, films created of this manner are forced to rely upon heavy exposition, narrators, subtext and all sorts of cheap-out techniques just to make sense. Young viewers, of whom films of this nature are designed to appeal to first and foremost, are often most sensitive to the clumsiness of this practice and lose interest very quickly.
All of that being said, Wings is an at least watchable example of the technique. Does that mean it can give Planes a run for its money? Absolutely not. However, when compared to some of the more painful examples of the practice out there (look into Legend of the Sea as an example of how wrong it can all go), this one is at least watchable if not enjoyable.
Wings tells the tale of Ace; a lowly fighter jet who’s job is to apparently change the weather over some crop fields by disrupting the clouds above (yes, I realize they couldn’t make him a crop duster for legal reasons mentioned above, but really?) who aspires to be a prestigious stunt jet. A few weeks before a big airshow competition, Ace gets tricked into believing he was invited to take part in the competition.
Determined to be the next champion, Ace ventures out to find and train with the elusive Colonel, a legendary retired aircraft trainer. Long story short Colonel reluctantly takes Ace under his wing (pun- too much?), Ace nearly quits along the way but is forced to dig in deep, a villain in the form of Cyclone tries to foil Ace’s ambition, the day of the competition comes and the true definition of a hero is discovered by all. There is nothing new under the sun here, and in fact, when viewed back to back with Planes, perhaps Disney need fear a mole leaking animation info across the pond like some Cold War era spy; which, by the way, would have made for a much more interesting movie.
The piece comes in at a runtime of 88-minutes and wears a G rating. Also like most foreign-turned-domestic CG efforts, this one manages to secure a pretty solid vocal cast for dub duties: Josh Duhamel as Ace, Hilary Duff as love interest Windy, Rob Schneider as the loyal but annoying chicken sidekick Dodo, Jesse McCartney as the villain Cyclone and Tom Skerritt as Colonel.
However, all the acting talent in the world can’t save the film from its biggest downfall (yes there’s one even bigger than the lack of originality here): a muddled plot. In summary like above, it seems straight forward enough but the way the plot unfolds is very odd. It almost feels as though there are pieces to the story missing; the ones necessary to justify the character motivations. The plot is riddled full of happenstance and odd directorial choices. We’ll suffer through 15-minutes of unnecessary dialog but the scene where Cyclone finally gets his come-uppings happens so insanely fast and nonchalant as to appear an afterthought. So much for dramatic resolution.
Then, and this may be nit-picking, there is the little annoyance that manages to totally undo the brilliance of Pixar’s Cars/ Planes universe that may go unnoticed by younger viewers but was glaring to me: The reason these films work is the lack of biologic lifeforms preset. We’re to suspend disbelief on account of the fact that everything in these worlds is anthropomorphic inanimate objects; a metaphor for society if somehow we weren’t involved in any capacity. Wings almost gets it right but then interlaces biological animals to the formula. We have blackbirds, insects, chickens- that apparently can talk for whatever reason and speak to/ understand the vehicles. A minor complaint, sure, but small questions start to surface before long- are there other talking animals in this world? Are there people in this world? Could these talking animals communicate with humans as well if so? Just more sloppiness to make the experience a tad less enjoyable.
Finally I suppose I should mention the visuals as, surprisingly, they are by no means the weakest link to this chain. The character models and textures are surprisingly solid. In fact, there are moments (like when the farm vehicles wake a sleepy Ace) where it’s almost easy to forget you aren’t in fact watching a Cars or Planes film. The backgrounds definitely take a hit though when compared to the above examples and the mechanics of motion aren’t nearly as precise. Objects move far more stiffly throughout the frames- the concept of flight nowhere near as lifelike as the latter. However, all in all, creating and animating objects as stiff and non-biologic as planes, cars and tractors is definitely a wise move on behalf of the smaller studios, as it takes a lot less detail work to look convincing as say an animal or human character.
In conclusion, unless you are a die-hard collector of film involving anthropomorphic vehicles or your little ones simply can’t get enough of the stuff despite there being at present two Cars films, a series of Cars Toons, two Planes (with a third one on the way); Wings and its abysmal sequel (Wings: Sky Force Heroes) are probably best left to collect dust in the bargain bins.