Posted July 17, 2013 by Daniel Hodgson in
Quality animation and good storytelling. The studio that those words first brings to mind is Pixar (although those qualities are equally true of Studio Ghibli and Aardman Animations). Turbo has both of those things, however, like How to Train Your Dragon and The Croods, the credit goes to DreamWorks Animation.
In Turbo, Theo (voice of Ryan Reynolds) stays up late at night watching video tapes of Indy 500 races, and dreams of racing against his idol, five-time racing champion Guy Gagne (Bill Hader). It’s an idle fancy, given that Theo is a garden snail, and takes 16 minutes to go a single yard. His brother Chet (Paul Giamatti) wishes he’d face reality. However, when a freak accident gives him super-snail speed, Theo’s dreams have a chance of coming true.
Soon after, Fate lands Theo and Chet in the hands of Tito (Michael Pena), a food truck driver for Dos Bros Tacos, located in the Starlight Plaza, a dying strip mall. Tito has had a few hare-brained schemes before to draw business to his brother Angelo’s (Luis Guzman) restaurant, but Theo (now calling himself “Turbo”) gives him an idea that might work: entering the world’s fastest snail in the Indy 500. After all, there are no rules that say a snail can’t enter.
Samuel L. Jackson, Maya Rudolph, Ben Schwartz, Michael Bell, and Snoop Dogg lend their voices to Whiplash, Burn, Skidmark, White Shadow, and Smoove Move respectively, five would-be racing snails who share Turbo’s need for speed. Michelle Rodriguez, Richard Jenkins, and Ken Jeong round out the cast as Paz, Bobby and Kim-Ly, tenants of the Starlight Plaza, who help sponsor Turbo’s entry into the Indy 500.
That’s no small number of side characters, but that’s Turbo‘s point. Another kid’s movie might tell kids believe in yourself, and your dreams will come true. Turbo points out that pursuing your dreams requires the support of friends and family, and no one can do it all by themselves. However, support and approval is not just a means to an end for Turbo, an outcast among the backyard garden snails for his unrealistic dreams, but an end unto itself. Like other children’s classics, Turbo is about a pariah gaining social acceptance. There’s substance here that makes Turbo more than just entertainment. It’s a good story that has something to say.
Did I mention Turbo is entertaining? There’s a lot of laughs here, with good lines coming from both the side characters and Turbo himself. There’s some funny trash-talking between Whiplash and Turbo, and White Shadow delivers some humorous non-sequiturs and nonsensical dialog. There’s plenty of sight-gags as well, like when Turbo discovers he’s taken on several car-like traits, like high-beams coming out of his eyes, and radio songs coming out of his mouth.
As with most movies these days—especially animated films—Turbo sees a 3D release. Unlike DreamWorks’ own The Croods, there isn’t much attempt at playing to the format. I recommend a 2D screening.
Turbo isn’t quite as ambitious as Epic in its animation, especially the backgrounds, but it’s far better in its storytelling and ideas, more on par with The Croods and Monsters University. That said, it is one of the better animated movies this year, as well as one of the better entries in the DreamWorks Animation canon. True, that canon doesn’t always sparkle, and what makes Pixar and company is the consistency of their work. But every so often, DreamWorks shows its potential as animators and storytellers. Turbo is one of those movies.