Top critical review
on 22 November 2015
Ryan Reynolds stars as the voice of a garden snail with big dreams of racing in the Indy 500 in DreamWorks Animation’s Turbo. Is this snail another great addition to the DreamWorks cast of colorful characters or is it just a bug that needs to be squished?
Theo is an average garden snail with hopes and dreams of one day being incredibly fast. During the day he lives a mundane life working in a garden with his brother, Chet, and the rest of the snails removing overripe tomatoes from the crop. At night he watches video tapes of his favorite Formula One racecar driver Guy Gagné for inspiration as he tries to improve his speed in a thirty-six inch race. So desperate to be fast he drinks energy drinks like his hero and calls himself “Turbo.” Chet thinks it’s nonsense for Theo to have such preposterous dreams given the fact that he’s a snail.
One day after nearly getting run over by a lawnmower trying to prove he is fast, Theo shamefully runs away from the garden. He stops on a highway overpass of the 101 and stares in awe of cars racing by below. All of a sudden a semi truck knocks Theo off the highway and onto the hood of a tricked out racing Camaro. He is then sucked into the engine as the vehicle drag races which he is then drowned in a Nitrous Oxide solution within the pistons. The chemicals absorb into Theo’s blood stream and he becomes lightning fast.
When he returns to the garden to tell his brother of what happened, Chet is swooped away by a hungry crow. Theo races after the bird and rescues him, but then finds themselves stranded in the middle of a strip mall in Van Nuys, California. The two are captured and when they think they are doomed, they are actually placed on a racetrack against other snails. Theo finally gets his chance to show the world his powers and amazes everyone. The man who captured Theo and Chet is named Tito who works for his brother Angelo at Dos Bros. Tacos at the Starlight Plaza. Tito also has brother problems as his hair brained schemes to promote business never seem to work out. Tito is so desperate to help his brother and the other store owners of the runned down strip mall, he decides to enter Theo, now officially called Turbo, into the Indy 500. Can Turbo and Tito prove their brothers wrong and win the big race?
I have been a fan of DreamWorks movies for a while now. I feel that between them and Pixar, they really produce some high quality family entertainment. I love Kung-Fu Panda, Rise of the Guardians, and my favorite is How to Train your Dragon. So how does Turbo compare previous films? While the snails are cute, they have generic personalities and the story at times, pardon the pun, runs at a snails pace.
The first act of the movie starts off extremely similar to Pixar’s A Bug’s Life. Turbo is an insect who isn’t content with his lot in life. He dreams of bigger and better opportunities. I couldn’t help but compare Turbo to the ant character Flick as even in one scene Turbo invents different tools to collect tomatoes. Once Turbo obtains his super speed ability (a scene that reminded me of Disney’s Bolt) it then apparently seemed to steal many influences from Pixar’s original Car’s. The complete second act has Turbo, just like Lighting McQueen, come to a dilapidated part of town where businesses are on the verge of bankruptcy and in desperate need of customers. The Starlight Plaza strip mall reeked of Radiator Springs. This all lead to the final act that took place at the Indy 500. If you watched Cars a million times with your kids like I have, you’ll already know that the outsider brings the cast of misfit humans and snails together. I won’t spoil how it ends, but it’s pretty predictable.
One thing I hate in movies is obvious product placement. I thought it was creatively ingenious that Cars and Cars 2 had made up sponsors and products like Dinoco and Rust-Eze. Turbo has no problem plastering brand names all over the screen. I know both NASCAR and Formula One racing has more sponsorships than New York City’s Times Square, but to me it felt like a distraction as Sunoco, Chevrolet, Verizon, Firestone, and many other name brands get pushed into you face in RealD 3D. Most kids will be completely oblivious, but as an adult the entire third act seemed like one big commercial.
Inherently Turbo is not a bad film. When you remove a lot of layers of the story it’s deep down just a story of two sets of brothers. One brother lives in the dreamworld. The other lives in reality. Ryan Reynolds is the voice of Turbo. He just wants to be fast. He’s just like any kid who wants to be a astronaut or a pilot but keeps getting told by his pessimistic older brother that it’s impossible. That’s where Chet comes in voiced by Paul Giamatti. Turbo just wants some encouragement, but his brother is too overbearing and protective to notice. This goes the same for the Dos Bros. Tacos brothers. Tito voiced by Michael Peña and Angelo voiced by Luis Guzmán constantly bicker. Tito wastes time thinking of merchandising and racing snails instead of selling tacos so Angelo yells at him. While kids may understand and relate to the parallels of the brothers’ relationships to their own siblings, I felt it was redundant and overly explained characters. It was like the movie was telling the same story twice at the exact same time.
What the kids are going to love are the rest of the snails. Not only are their shells colorful, but so are their personalities. One thing you’ll notice are that a couple of actors don’t really stray away from their perceived personas. The leader of the group is Whiplash voiced by Samuel L. Jackson. His character is pretty much Sam Jackson as a snail. That also goes for Smoove Move voiced by Snoop Dogg. He’s basically Snoop Dog as a snail and he snizzles for rizzles in the hizzie. Maya Rudolph is Burn, Mike Bell is White Shadow, and Ben Schwartz is Skid Mark. Other notable actors are the store owners, Michelle Rodriguez as Paz the mechanic, Ken Jeong as the nail stylist, and Richard Jenkins as bobby the hobbyist.
Turbo does have some pretty visuals that move at lightning speed. Many times, you get a really neat third person perspective of Turbo as he races at 200 mph. The filmmakers and artists took a lot of attention to detail to design the locations, especially as you get close up shots of the world from a snail’s perspective. I thought the film also looked really good in 3D.
One thing I always consider in reviewing family movies is my kids’ opinion. I took my 9 and 7 year old daughters and a couple of their friends. While they did indeed have fun with the movie, they liked it, but specifically told me they didn’t love it. In the long run Turbo felt like a 96 minute commercial to me rather than a heartfelt story.
Turbo wasn’t a horrible movie so if you do find yourself being forced by the kids to see it, you’re not going to hate yourself. It did have some really cool 3D effects, especially during the racing, but if you’re on a tight budget, you’re not going to lose out taking the little ones to a 2D bargain matinee. With movies like Monsters University and Despicable Me 2 that have a bit better story and characters, I’d say wait to rent or purchase when it’s available.