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2013 | 96 min | PG | 2.39:1



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Theatrical release date

 17 July, 2013
 18 October, 2013

Country of origin

 United States

Technical aspects

3D (native)

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Screenshots from Turbo Blu-ray

Turbo Preview  

 / 10
Preview by Brian Orndorf, July 18, 2013

Not that animated films should be held to a standard of realism, but “Turbo” is quite bizarre, even for a cartoon. It’s a story about a snail who finds himself soaked in nitrous oxide, endowing him with the characteristics of a car. He glows and moves with lightning speed, yet fringe characters don’t really seem shocked when confronted with such a vision. The snail is also allowed to compete in the Indianapolis 500 with other cars, and nobody bats an eye. However, the fantasy draws a line at communication, finding humans unable to hear the snails speak. It’s a weird movie and thankfully one that’s filled with enough positive energy and slick visuals to distract from its nonsense. Entertaining and agreeably performed, “Turbo” is a pleasant diversion for younger audiences. A little nutty, but friendly and colorful.

A bored snail who dreams of a better life racing cars alongside his hero, Guy Gagne (voiced by Bill Hader), Theo (Ryan Reynolds) dutifully continues work inside a local tomato patch, with older brother Chet (Paul Giamatti) keeping a watchful eye on his daydreaming sibling. Slinking away from the comfort of the garden, Theo observes the wonders of the freeway system, wishing he could be as fast one day. Slipping off a bridge, Theo is sucked into the nitrous oxide reserve of a street racing car, emerging from the chemical muck with super-speed and automobile parts, finally able to achieve his dream. Discovered by a Tito (Michael Pena), who co-owns a struggling taco stand with responsible brother Angelo (Luis Guzman), Theo is put on the snail racing circuit, making friends with the competition, including Burn (Maya Rudolph), Smoove Move (Snoop Dogg), and Whiplash (Samuel L. Jackson). Proving his worth, Theo urges Tito to sign him up for the Indianapolis 500, with the ambitious taco-slinger bringing in his fellow store owners (including Richard Jenkins, Michelle Rodriguez, and Ken Jeong) to help with the seed money. Off to the races, Theo tries to maintain focus as the pressure to perform builds, while Chet remains a disapproving force in his life, unwilling to support a crazy fantasy that’s about to become a reality.

The marketing on “Turbo” hasn’t exactly been misleading; it is a story about big dreams and fast cars starring snails. However, there’s more of a cartoon here than the suits at Dreamworks Animation have been willing to share, trying to entice Indy 500 fans theaters when the picture is actually quite appealing for all ages and interests. Although it doesn’t bring anything new to the table, “Turbo” has a great amount of charm and a screwy sense of fantasy (possibly reckless, as our hero’s gifts emerge from magic, not skill), keeping it inviting as it traverses well-worn themes of self-worth and dream achievement.

Before it burns rubber, “Turbo” is perhaps at its best as a study of this idiosyncratic snail community, who spend their day deep in a tomato patch rooting out rotten fruit while snacking on the juiciest specimens. Chet is a foreman who keeps workers on task, trying to avoid accidents and the occasional crow abduction. He’s a responsible type who looks down on Theo, a snail with his head in the clouds despite a clear path of dreary existence before him. The sibling dynamic is clichéd but functional, soon mirrored by Tito and Angelo’s itchy interactions, with the older taco king dismissive of his brother’s harebrained plans to lure customers. The details of the frame feel like leftovers from Pixar’s “A Bug’s Life,” yet director David Soren maintains a fresh sense of humor and a memorable read of nearby threats, as the snails are haunted by lawn services and a young boy in a big wheel who loves to cause trouble. Characterizations are made cleanly, keeping the picture up to speed without any eye-rolls, making bizarre jokes while maintaining the potency of Theo’s race ambition.

Once Theo receives his toxic blue baptism, “Turbo” enjoys more of weirdo cartoon spin, observing the speed demon discover his car parts (e.g. his eyes glow like headlights, the sounds of radio emerge from his body, and he beeps when he backs up) while developing his blazing velocity, zooming around the screen in a bright flash of light. The imagery here is most impressive, toying with scale and character design to keep the frame fresh, while colors are lush and expressive, adding to the enjoyment of the feature. Also startling is an emotional hook between Theo and Tito, with the publicity-minded man protective of his newfound miracle. The screenplay avoids a routine of mustache-twirling exploitation to make the pair friends with a mutual interest in Theo’s success. And the relationship between Chet and Theo carries some weight as well, primarily due to Giamatti’s exceptional performance as the doubting Thomas, bringing panic and pathos to offer the character some welcome shading. In a picture with excellent voice work all around, Giamatti steals every scene he’s in.

The conclusion of “Turbo” finally arrives at a race track, transforming Gange into something of a villainous sort, with screaming ambition to retain his title as king of the Indy 500, fiercely combating Theo as the snail maneuvers carefully around cars. The climax carries on for much too long, dragging out the inevitable to secure a handful of suspenseful beats, leaving “Turbo” a little winded as it crossed the finish line, shedding it spirited animated approach to squeeze every last drop of heroism it can find. Thankfully, the surge of labor doesn’t mangle the overall lightness and flexibility of the unusual picture.

Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Paul Giamatti, Michael Peña, Luis Guzmán, Bill Hader, Richard Jenkins
Director: David Soren (I)

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