– Summary –
Director : David Soren
Year Of Release : 2013
Principal Cast : Ryan Reynolds, Paul Giamatti, Michael Pena, Snoop Dogg, Samuel L Jackson, Maya Rudolph, Michelle Rodriguez, Luis Guzman, Bill Hader, Richard Jenkins, Ken Jeong, Ben Schwartz, Kurtwood Smith, Michael Bell.
Approx Running Time : 96 Minutes
Synopsis: A snail, obsessed with racing cars, finds himself joining the Indy 500 after a freak accident with illegal street-racers gives him the ability to move at incredible speed.
What we think : Turbo straddles that fine line between been-there and done-that, with a familiar story that rings hollow for adult audiences, but one which will delight younger children who are easily amused by pretty pictures and a never-stop story style. It might be fraught with cliche, and encumbered by plot devices able to be seen from space, but the film has an undemanding joy that brings a smile to your face regardless. It’s hardly revolutionary, but it is a little time-wasting fun.
No dream is too big, no dreamer too small. And no snail too slow.
DreamWorks’s Animation’s search for a franchise to follow up the now-defunct Shrek saga won’t stop with Turbo. I can’t envisage three or four more films about a racing snail (yes, that’s what Turbo is about), as much as the initial concept is as brilliant as you’d expect. [Editor’s note – facepalm moment finding a series of mini-episodes has been commissioned for animation] Watching Turbo race fellow Indy 500 competitors around the track is pretty funny, although if you sit back and think about it too hard, your brain might melt from the effort. Turbo, however, is effortlessly engaging, even if it does feel unoriginal and more or less like a carbon copy of Cars. Thanks to the fabulous voice cast, some terrific animation (and effects), and a refusal by the story to stop for a breath, Turbo’s speed-enhanced power play is in keeping the younger crowd engaged with its frantic visuals, rather than its rote, clunky (and predictable) narrative.
An average garden snail, Theo (voice of Ryan Reynolds) dreams of something bigger. He works at “the plant”, in a job with little satisfaction dealing with the overripe tomatoes thrown aside by the rest of the snail population. Theo has an obsession with car racing, in particular Indy 500 champion Guy Gagne (Bill Hader), who he idolizes. After he accidentally causes both he and his uptight brother Chet (Paul Giamatti) to be fired from their work, Theo finds his way to the highway and, by chance, an illegal street race down one of Los Angeles’ many viaducts. After being “inhaled” by a souped-up car, and having his system flooded with Nitrous Oxide (NOS), Theo wakes later to find that he has the ability to move at incredible speed. After chasing Chet across the city after he’s snaffled by a trio of crows, Theo and his brother find themselves at a run-down strip-mall, where he is found by one half of taco-selling brothers, Tito (Michael Pena), and thrown into a snail racing competition, with a gang of fellow city snails, led by Whiplash (Samuel L Jackson). After witnessing Theo’s incredible speed, Tito decides to enter Theo in the Indianapolis 500 under the name “Turbo”, much to his brother Angelo’s (Luis Guzman) annoyance. Through a series of adventures, Theo is entered into the Indy 500, becoming the first non-human competitor in the race’s history – and his main rival is one-time idol, Guy Gagne. But will a snail be able to match it with the larger, more thunderous human vehicles driving around the track?
Turbo is a film about dreamers. Ever since that green puppet frog slid out of the swamp to sing about rainbows, the archetype has become almost embedded in our collective cultural consciousness, and Turbo doesn’t do a lot to try and break that mold. Instead, this film actually embraces the “dreamer” mentality, to the point where its “No dream is too big, no dreamer too small” mantra is rammed home several times throughout the story just to make sure we get it. The obviousness of the plot, from the central character of Theo and his dream of racing in the Indy 500, to Tito’s also-ran dream of being something more than a taco salesman, to Theo’s brother Chet having to make a cathartic moment himself about how he has lost sight of his dreams, there’s almost no cliche or story point here that hasn’t been lifted from some other film. Turbo skims depth, averts being emotionally overwrought, and avoids trying something new deep down when all it seems to want to do is throw up some spectacular visuals and flashy, motivational-inspired pseudo-thematics.
What sells the film beyond the simplistic plot, are the wild and whacky characters. Theo himself is singularly driven to go as fast as possible, a factor the film regularly brings up in its opening act. Chet, voiced by the wonderful Paul Giamatti, is as curmudgeonly as you can get, a negative-thinking, pessimistic old sook who sees Theo as an idiot and emotionally vagrant. They remain almost the same right throughout the film. It’s the rest of the cast, from Bill Hader’s delightful hero/villain Gagne, to Samuel L Jackson and his band of testosterone-driven snail racers (voiced by the likes of Snoop Dogg, Maya Rudolph and Michael Bell as the hilarious White Shadow), to the slumming-it group of strip-mall inhabitants (including Richard Jenkins, Michelle Rodriguez and Ken Jeong as a elderly beautician named Kim-Ly), that make this film as entertaining as it can be. Ryan Reynolds is actually pretty convincing as Theo, giving the character an earnestness that allows the impossibility of the scenario to breeze by without much thought. Michael Pena’s winning vocals as Tito, with his equally irrepressible sense of life, almost steal the show completely, but the real surprise is Bill Hader’s Gagne, who turns from heroic square-jawed idol to teeth-gnashing Big Bad fairly quickly, yet with a panache and devilish humor that makes this film worth it.
The animation is as sensational as one might expect from a big-budget studio film; the film looks an absolute treat, from the detail of the snails and their hotted-up racing accoutrement, to the razzle-dazzle of the Indy 500 itself and the cars racing in it. The effects used for Theo’s “speed” powers felt a lot like the contrails used by Mighty Mouse, and I really enjoyed the throwback. Turbo is nothing if not visual eye-candy, although it’s probably not a stretch to say this kind of thing has become the default setting rather than anything exceptional. Still, it strikes me as amazing just what artists are able to do with computers these days. Henry Jackman’s appropriately soaring score evokes the necessary emotional hits of the highs and lows of Theo’s story, and James Ryan’s delightful editing of the racing sequences is – in a word – spectacular.
Turbo is an undemanding animated adventure that asks little of its audience other than to sit back and be entertained. While this might satisfy the majority of Turbo’s demographic, for the more discerning (read: adult) among us, one might find the dearth of depth and the generic storyline a little hard to bear more than one or two times. In any case, Turbo provides a diverting, relatively exciting and definitely well animated action/adventure whose underlying subtextual plotting (and overt reiteration of being true to oneself) effectively coerce some mild amusement and generational-savvy psychology out of those younger than twelve.