Take the story of Cars, the character relationships of Ratatouille, the social politics of A Bug’s Life, mix them up in a bowl of snails, and you’ll get Turbo, the latest animated film by DreamWorks that charts the rise of a common garden snail to the speed and danger of the Indianapolis 500. He isn’t an ordinary snail of course; he’s one of those snails that’s too ambitious for his own good — he spends every waking moment watching tapes of old races, studying the movement of the cars and ogling at his hero, Guy Gagne, the Schumacher of the Indy 500. Meanwhile, his entire colony (herd? clan?) of snails mocks him for racing against overripe tomatoes, and dreaming one day of competing professionally.
But, he’s a snail. So it wouldn’t make sense for him to compete in a race that’s loaded with sports cars. Luckily enough, the movie provides a solution: He gets sucked into the turbo engine of a street racer and accidentally absorbs all its nitro goodness. In a scene that must have been borrowed from Spider-Man, we see all his cells and veins light up with nitro as it pumps through his system, to his heart. Now, he’s no longer common garden snail; he’s super-charged racer snail, and he can zoom along and match speeds with cars that can hardly match speeds with each other. Ah, but now he needs a ticket to the race. Don’t worry; the movie’s got that covered too.
We meet Tito Lopez (Michael Pena), an adorably plump latin taco seller who’s sick and tired of his dead-end job in his dead-end diner, owned and operated together with his brother (Luis Guzman). No one ever comes to buy tacos from them — he thinks the roadside mall where they work needs a star attraction in order to pull in customers; his brother just thinks they need to focus on the food. By chance, he stumbles upon our snail hero, Theo (Ryan Reynolds), and discovers his supersonic gift. They develop a relationship and decide (somehow) to enter the Indy 500. If you’re thinking it’s a ridiculous idea, you’d be right.
DreamWorks has come a long way in the field of computer animation. They, like Disney, had humble beginnings with cell animation, where they produced underrated gems like The Prince Of Egypt and The Road To El Dorado. In 2001, they landed the highly successful Disney parody, Shrek, fully designed and animated by computer. It was nothing new back then, but it opened the doorways for DreamWorks. Now, the quality of their animation is outstanding, and even if you find fault with their stories, you can’t complain about the detail of their virtual creations.
Turbo is wonderfully painted. It is rich with vibrant colours, and it holds up perfectly even when the camera is an inch or two from someone’s face. We can see each and every freckle on Tito’s pudgy face, and the shots of racing cars clinging and clanging against each other on the racetrack are designed with adrenaline-pumping enthusiasm. The snails, of course, are multi-coloured to attract the younger viewers, and their eyes are ten times bigger than they should be, but they too are envisioned with creativity. When Theo’s shell illuminates with the brightest blue, and his slithery underbelly twitches, it’s as if a real racing engine has been mounted onto his slimy back, eager to blast off.
And yet this movie is underwhelming. It sticks close to formula and refuses to stray too far from it. There are certain things that must happen in a movie like this. There must be the doubtful mother, father, sibling, best friend, etc (in this case, it’s a brother named Chet [Paul Giamatti]), who thinks our hero’s dreams are too silly, but is later the key factor in boosting his confidence — “It’s in you. It’s always been in you!”. There’s a whole bunch of obstacles that our hero has to overcome in order to reach his goal (stubborn CEOs, his inner turmoil, his physical limitations). There’s the idol, Gagne (Bill Hader), who turns out to be a real asshole. And there are a bunch of other constants that must be present. They make a really unique premise seem dated and overused. I referenced Cars, Ratatouille, and A Bug’s Life at the start of this review. Indeed, if you’ve seen those movies, you’ve seen this one.
Best Moment | Tito Lopez. I want him to give out free hugs.
Worst Moment | Most of it. Samuel L. Jackson as a snail isn’t very pleasing either.