From Scottish ogres to anamorphic cars to yellow jellybean shaped Minions who speak gibberish and earn lots of money, in animated films it seems like anything or anyone can take the lead role. This weekend the question is: How will audiences react to aspirational terrestrial pulmonate gastropod mollusk?
Ryan Reynolds voices Turbo, a snail who dreams an impossible dream—to go fast. He’s obsessed with car racing, and even wears a number 5 and a racing flag on his shell. His friends and family, particularly brother Theo (Paul Giamatti), don’t approve of his fast and furious pursuits, but he is undeterred. “Everyone has that thing that makes them happy,” he says, “and for me it’s terrifying, terrifying speed.”
Enter some magic realism—hey, this is a cartoon, anything can happen. Turbo gets sucked into a car engine and after inhaling some fumes develops the power of speed. Moving at rates at up to 200 MPH this motoring mollusk is discovered by the co-owner of a taco truck (Michael Peña) who takes him on a brief detour to the shady world of underground snail racing before sponsoring him in the big show—a spot at the Indianapolis 500.
“Turbo” has some good voice work, thanks to Giamatti and Samuel L. Jackson as a wisecracking racing snail who breathes some life into lines like “Your trash talking is unnecessarily complicated!”
It also has a poetic moment or two. Early on Turbo wishes on a shooting star only to have it turn out to the light on an airplane as it flies away, taking his dreams with it. The sequence is nicely animated and suitably cinematic, as are the race scenes and some early mild action shots of Turbo and friends in their home garden.
There are some good messages about never giving up and following your dreams and all in all it’s a cute idea. Too bad it is saddled with a dull script that’s about as interesting as escargot without garlic and butter.
“Turbo” is amiable, and the racing snail characters will make cool Snails ‘R’ Us toys for the little ones, but the story feels padded with music and montages. As well done as the visuals are, the story moves at a snail’s pace, which seems like it should be appropriate for this movie, but really isn’t.