TURBO Review

Turbo is a completely complacent piece of entertainment. There isn't anything particularly intriguing about the film and there is absolutely nothing that might offend or cause someone not to enjoy it. In fact, the viewing experience I had was one of initially low expectations that were met with a sense of pure ease and joy that radiated off the screen and into the creative juices the film had flowing allowing for it all to be very colorful, very fun, but most importantly, entertaining. It held the children's attention, it never slowed for too long and it didn't take any detours in getting where it wanted to go. There is a very basic, straightforward plot, a message that is easy to understand and characters that are completely endearing while being both supporters and detractors to our titular heroes dreams. It is tough to come up with much to say about a film so middle of the road that you find neither anything spectacular to love about it or insulting enough to hate. I guess there could be some magic in that, in the fact that parents can take their kids to the movies and have a fun enough time themselves while not having to worry about whether or not the kids will actually stay in their seats and remain entertained, but as far as quality of the overall film goes, whether it has anything profound to say or not, or whether it will stand as a classic of the genre it fits so comfortably into, that is where the film fails to meet any real standards. Still, the fact of the matter is the makers of Turbo likely weren't shooting for any such standards, but instead had the humble aspirations of making a fun, entertaining ride with a positive message that informed kids no matter how small they are that their big dreams were worth going after and could indeed be accomplished. I applauded Monsters University earlier this summer for taking the road less traveled in preaching life lessons to its young audiences, but while Turbo chooses to go the road most traveled in pretty much every aspect it likely won't stand a chance of rising above other animated films in a summer so saturated with minions and monsters. I liked Turbo well enough and I'm sure plenty of kiddos will see it and feel the same way, but I doubt any of them will take much away from it.

Chet (Paul Giamatti) and Turbo (Ryan Reynolds) are brothers at odds with one another.
The story of Turbo is very well indicated in any of the trailers you've no doubt seen for the film and things play out safely and just as you might predict. Still, that doesn't mean there isn't room for some creativity along the way, especially given that director David Soren, with his first feature effort, has taken a snail and pretty much placed it in the world of Disney and Pixar's Cars. In what might have been the most refreshing aspect of the whole thing is the first half hour or so when we come to be acclimated with Turbo (Ryan Reynolds), his brother Chet (Paul Giamatti) and their dull and tedious way of life that has them sorting through the tomatoes in the garden of a middle class yard that they and several other snails inhabit all while trying to avoid the crows that could swoop in at any moment and take one of their lives as if it were nothing. This is meant to resemble the 8-5 routine of corporate America and Turbo finds this lifestyle anything but satisfying while Chet can't stop himself from preaching how it is better to be safe than sorry to his younger brother. Turbo won't listen though, he has dreams and no matter how ridiculous those dreams are, Turbo plans on meeting them. In his after work hours Turbo hides out in the garage next to the garden where he and his fellow snails live with an old TV, watching Formula -1 races and admiring the champion of all champions: Guy Gagne (Bill Hader doing fantastic voice work as always). Through all of this we get small touches that elevate the expository material to something a little higher. Whether it be the way in which the snails view the gardener or the child that plays in their yard or the quirks that have the kettle sounding off as if they were working at a factory and the character design that gives one upper-management snail a mustache made of moss, it is all rather fun to look on and catch the smaller jokes that won't get as much credit on an initial viewing. It is fair to also say that Turbo gets the job done in terms of adequate laughs. It isn't a hilarious affair, but it works more times than it doesn't which is something given that Dreamworks usually excels or falls pretty flat.

I've come to enjoy this type of alternate programming that Dreamworks offers in its not-so serious, but effortlessly beautiful animation efforts. Even earlier this year when the studio unleashed The Croods I was surprised by the amount of work that seemed to go into the film despite being put off by the character design and the star packed voice cast that promoted Nicholas Cage as its anchor. Looking back, I was much more impressed with the film than I remember, but I truly do adore the two Kung fu Panda films (the second of which is truly underrated) and as you will see if you venture out to see Turbo in theaters the studio has a sequel to its most prestigious property scheduled for release next summer. Still, as I immediately look back on Turbo and take in its merits with its none too obvious faults, it still doesn't rouse any type of reaction in me other than being simply okay. While that first half hour hints at something creatively divine and worthy of a middle and final act that might propel it into a stratosphere with the likes of lasting animated films, we instead are given a second act that introduces a whole new cast of characters and then onto an absurd final act that literally has a snail winning the Indianapolis 500 and justifying Turbo's willingness to never give up (I apologize if you consider this a spoiler, but if you're reading this than you shouldn't act surprised by this news). That is all fine and I won't make a big deal out of the fact the world of Turbo is more incorporated with the real world than I ever expected it to be, but despite a very talented voice cast that includes Ken Jeong as an old woman along with Michael Pena, Richard Jenkins, and Michelle Rodriguez as shop owners in a strip mall who gather to race their pet snails they've tricked out it comes to feel more outlandish than imaginative. When Pena's Tito (half of a brother duo with Luis Guzman's Angelo that run a taco stand) comes across Turbo one day he introduces him to the rest of the snails that have been picked up to race; this includes Samuel L. Jackson (who else?) as Whiplash, Snoop Dogg as Smoove Move, Maya Rudolph as Burn, and Ben Schwartz as Skidmark. It's a surprisingly large cast that the film handles well enough if not making Turbo's fellow mollusks as integral a part of the story as I expected and therefore not memorable enough to make their toys fly off the shelf.  

Turbo leads his new crew that includes (from left): Smoove Move (Snoop Dogg), Burn (Maya Rudolph),
Skidmark (Ben Schwartz) and Whiplash (Samuel L. Jackson).
 It is as the film goes on and the plot grows all the more outlandish that I started to not have as much fun with the it, but instead began to step back and acknowledge the leaps and bounds the writers were taking with the real world and how far they were willing to bend reality simply became too far. It is easy to believe that cars can talk and be a part of major cultural events when they exist in a world only made up of cars. It is even easy to buy into a world where bugs have taken on human likeness and operate in a very similar society if not extremely scaled down, but to see a movie where the tiniest of creatures become the focal point in a human world is at one point not only ridiculous, but unbelievable. Naturally, this type of thinking condones that actual thought should be put into discussing an animated film about a racing snail and that in itself is kind of ridiculous. Thus, I will digress and simply find a way to re-state that Turbo is a fine enough film for the type of movie it wants to be. There isn't even a reason to be mad at the film for not having bigger aspirations as it clearly meets the standards it sets for itself with ease. It has a voice cast that is well-known and seem to be having a good time, it has a good heart that is only trying to do its best to engage the younger audiences that are so often talked down to while at the same time delivering clever and creative ways of telling the story through an unexpected set of animals where there is irony in what life has told them they should be and what their drive pushes them to be. I was afraid going into Turbo that it would be a one note joke of an inherently slow animal who wanted to go fast, but I was pleasantly surprised by the unfiltered fun I had with the film. It isn't anything that will break new ground, or influence animated films of the future, and as I said earlier it probably won't even stay with me for more than a day or so, but I can't say I didn't have fun in the moment and despite what the move may teach, that might just be "good enough".