A man is sitting inside his house on a hot summer morning reading the paper. Suddenly, he hears a faint knock at the door.
He opens the door and looks around. There isn’t anybody there. He begins to close the door when he hears “Hey, down here!”
He looks down and standing on his doormat is a tiny snail.
“What do you want?” the man asks.
“Well sir, it’s awfully hot out here. I was hoping you’d let me come inside and cool off in your air conditioning for a while,” the snail pleads.
Annoyed, the man yells “Forget it!” And then he kicks the snail as hard as he can.
Six months later…
The man is once again sitting in his house and hears another faint knock at the door.
He opens the door and there again is the same snail who says, “Why’d you do THAT?”
I’m here all week folks.
The punchline of this (really bad) joke is, of course, that snails are slow. Very, very slow. Snails are so synonymous with slow that common terms such as “a snail’s pace” and “snail-mail” exist. So then, how crazy would it be if a snail competed against race cars in the Indy 500?
Not as crazy as you’d think in the world of Dreamworks’ Turbo, which is about THAT VERY EXACT THING!
Theo (voiced by Ryan Reynolds) is a small garden snail that lives and “works” in a tomato patch along with his peers. Every night Theo sneaks into a nearby house and watches racing on television. Theo dreams of being just like his hero, champion driver Guy Gagné (the always fabulous Bill Hader doing a French-Canadian accent). The only problem is that—have you been paying attention?—Theo is a snail and snails are slow. His brother, Chet (Paul Giamatti) attempts to point this out to him many times but Theo won’t give up on his dream. After all, Guy Gagné himself always says “No dream is too big and no dreamer too small.” Theo often puts himself in danger and gets into trouble at the tomato plant, with Chet often having to cover for him and bail him out.
One day Theo ventures out into the city and happens upon an illegal drag race right out of a Fast and Furious installment. He ends up getting sucked into the exhaust of one of the cars and takes a bath in nitrous oxide which mutates his DNA, turning him into an actual race car complete with speed, headlights, and a pumping stereo system (you really just have to go with it).
As luck would have it, soon after Theo and Chet are
kidnapped taken in by Tito (Michael Peña) a taco stand worker who runs an underground snail racing ring (again, you really just need to go with it). After amazing everyone with his new-found abilities, Theo, now renamed Turbo, convinces Tito that the next step would, naturally, be for him to enter the Indianapolis 500. At this point, you’re either A) completely down with this underdog story B) punching yourself in the face at the stupidity of this entire plot or C) happily enjoying a 96 minute nap while your children revel in the zaniness.
Like many animated cash-grabs, Turbo boasts an all-star cast of voice talent and all actors do a fine job of bringing their characters to life, despite most of said characters being one-note, borderline stereotypes. Joining the previously mentioned Reynolds, Giamatti, Hader, and Peña are Samuel L. Jackson (“Jules from Pulp Fiction IS Whiplash the snail!”), Michelle Rodriguez (who even as a cartoon can’t escape “tough chick” roles), Snoop
Dogg Lion as Smoove Move (it’s exactly as you’d expect it to be), Ken Jeong (as an old Asian woman. Wacky!), Luis Guzmán, Maya Rudolph, and Ben Schwartz (his character is named Skidmark. Really.). There’s even a cameo by Mario Andretti, which was a nice touch.
The opening scenes that establish Theo’s world are cleverly done. The worker snails harvesting (and trying not to squash/get squashed by) the tomatoes and their human-like corporate hierarchy are quite amusing.
Once Theo becomes Turbo and joins up with the misfit gang of humans and snails from a dilapidated strip mall, the story shifts and turns into a road adventure leading up to the big race. It’s there that the parallel between the two sets of brothers (Theo and Chet/Tito and his brother Angelo, voiced by Guzmán) develops and it’s the closest the film gets to having any kind of character arcs. Though that’s never fully realized, I appreciated that the effort was at least made.
The animation isn’t anything that hasn’t been seen before, but it’s entertaining enough and the race scenes are well-done, putting the viewer right on the track with Turbo. While I did not see the movie in 3D, I’d imagine these scenes in particular are a lot of fun for a viewer who sprang for the extra couple bucks. In fact, it seems this entire movie was built around the concept of the final race.
Most animated movies require a decent amount of suspension of disbelief, but the majority of the time this isn’t a problem. Anything is possible in a cartoon and we as the audience hand ourselves over to whatever is being presented in front of us. I found this a little harder to do with Turbo because one of the main plot points is that the humans can’t get over the implausibility of a snail competing in the Indianapolis 500. So then how can the audience?
The film makes sure to continually remind the viewer that Turbo lives in the same world we do, complete with smartphones and auto-tuned viral videos, and this backfires because it frequently nails home the stupidity of the plot that we’re trying so hard to get on board with. It would have worked much better if the big race existed exclusively in the animal world, maybe something like a winky take on the Indy 500, instead of it being the actual Indy 500, with Turbo competing against other animals- cheetahs, tortoises, hares, you know? Turbo could still have gotten his super-strength the same way and hell, his whole molecular structure turning into that of a race car’s would have still been cool with me.
It’s magic, not roids!
In case you’re wondering, yes, this is one of those animated kids’ flicks with adult-themed “humor” meant to go over children’s heads, but despite the cast’s best efforts, these jokes fall flat more often than not. An ongoing gag involving the White Shadow character (Mike Bell) is the closest I came to audibly laughing.
The movie as a whole feels poorly thought-out and rushed through with the big-name cast, 3D tricks, and inevitable merchandising opportunities taking precedence over an innovative, coherent story.
Though the movie is clearly geared toward children, the PG rating is well-deserved. There are some pretty dark moments throughout that clash against the intended feel-good lightheartedness.
Remember Sid in Toy Story? Think of a more demented version who likes to torture actual living things. The character, credited simply as “Bike Boy” enjoys running over small creatures with his tricycle. It’s pretty creepy for a kids’ movie. I’d even find it creepy in an adult movie.
Also creepy? The escargot-loving crows that periodically swoop down and scoop up a few of Turbo’s acquaintances. After one such attack, a fellow snail deadpans “There goes Jerry.”
Most deaths are off-screen, though we see one of the crows get smashed to pieces, but that’s okay because the crows are bad, right?
There’s a pretty graphic multi-car crash as well, but again, everyone seems to be unharmed and there isn’t any blood, so apparently it’s just fine for the kiddies.
They’ll be fine.
Turbo is meant to have an inspiring “Reach for your goals” message. But the message is more like “Reach for your goals no matter how dangerous and irrational they are.” Turbo’s protective brother is portrayed as an antagonist, always holding Turbo back when he’s actually just really concerned about his well-being. At one point Chet tells Turbo he can’t support his competing in the race because he’s worried that he might get killed which results in a “why don’t you ever believe in me?” sad-eyed response from Turbo. Meanwhile, Tito is depicted as Turbo’s biggest supporter and closest friend, but when you stop and think about it, he’s really just using him.
It’s worth noting here that one of the screenwriters is Robert Siegel who also wrote The Wrestler, another film about following your dreams but also about facing the consequences of your choices, something that is never addressed in Turbo.
A weaker entry into the Dreamworks repertoire, Turbo is for the most part, a light and harmless underdog story. It’s got good intentions and cute characters voiced by capable actors, but it never fully lives up to its potential. Forgettable at best.
Take a Drink: every time you are reminded of another animated movie.
Take a Drink: whenever a snail uses its eyes as hands.
Take a Drink: at every insect or animal death.
Take a Drink: whenever someone says “That snail is fast!”
Take a Drink: at every product placement. Take two for Firestone.
Do a Shot: every time White Shadow attempts his catchphrase.