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Review: Turbo – A spectacular speedy-snail story

Posted by on July 17, 2013 – 12:02 am

TurboI never would have guessed that at some point in my adult life I would enthusiastically be rooting for a cartoon snail to win the Indianapolis 500, but the new animated film, Turbo, is one of those quintessential underdog stories that will have you cheering – not only for the smallest and slowest player in the game, but for the sheer absurdity and simple brilliance of its premise.

Turbo is also known as Theo (Ryan Reynolds), a little garden snail with big dreams of having the speed to compete in the 500-mile race known, of course, as the Indianapolis 500. The wannabe speedster watches his hero, French racer Guy Gagne (Bill Hader), on a television in the garden shed, and is inspired by the champion’s words of encouragement. Unfortunately, the rest of the Theo’s friends and family, who work harvesting rotten tomatoes in their garden worksite, are not as supportive.

One night on a lonely crawl far away from his yard, Theo finds himself in the middle of a Fast & Furious style street race and ends up being sucked into the air intake of a supercharger on one of the speeding vehicles, and in a classic comic-book hero style origin the little snail’s body becomes infused with the nitrous oxide in the engine and he gains the powers of super-speed; as well as some of the other car traits, like channeling music from its radio (very silly, but fun.)

After using his new found powers to save his brother, Chet (Paul Giamatti), from becoming a crow’s dinner, the pair are captured by the kind-hearted human, Tito (Michael Pena), who wants to race the snails at a hobby shop in the strip mall where he and his brother own a taco restaurant. For cheap evening entertainment, the shop owners from the mall all race snails, whose shells they have outfitted with racecar motifs.

TurboEven though they can’t really communicate, Tito and Theo are dreamers and kindred spirits, and when the man discovers that the snail is capable of super incredible speed, the two are off to make their dreams come true at the Indy 500, together with the shop owners (and their snails), who have invested their meager savings in “Turbo,” in the hope that a win at the race will gain publicity for their struggling businesses.

The shop snails all have an urban attitudes and names like Burn (Maya Rudolph), Skid Mark (Ben Schwartz), Smoove Move (Snoop Dogg) and Whiplash (Samuel L. Jackson), their leader. Jackson in particular is hilarious and has a lot of fun playing on his archetype. (When he is snail-slapping Turbo, while giving him a Samuel L. Jackson style pep talk, I thought I was going to bust a gut laughing.)

The animation, by DreamWorks Animation (Shrek), in Turbo is very detailed and amazingly actualized. The voice talent is all excellent and also includes Luis Guzman as Tito’s brother, Richard Jenkins and Michelle Rodriguez as shop owners, and Ken Jeong as a feisty Asian manicurist. This is the first feature film for director David Soren, who also wrote the screenplay together with Darren Lemke and Robert Siegel.

TurboTurbo has a great inner-city feel to it and good urban contemporary music from Snoop Dogg, Run-D.M.C., Pitbull, Jackson 5, and even a little “Eye of the Tiger” to make its underdog theme complete. Hip-Hop music is normally not on my playlist, but I still enjoyed the fitting tunes in this film.

A movie that can make a grown man cheer for a snail has done something very right, and the complete illogicalness of it all made me even giddier – laughing at the fact that I was laughing at something so stupid and yet so much fun.

Ironically, Turbo is a film that I didn’t expect much from and that I was totally surprised by. It has got a lot of heart and is a perfect family film with a great message. I also loved the recent animated film, Despicable Me 2, but the snail wins this race and is the best animated movie I’ve seen to date this year. Grade: 8/10

Photos © 2013 DreamWorks Animation LLC.

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