“Turbo” may not break any new ground, but it offers enough mild laughs to make a good weekend escape; a fare light enough to entertain without much harm.
This latest feature from DreamWorks Animation does well in evoking a triumph-of-the-underdog tale so familiar to family entertainment of similar ilk.
More mature viewers my find its dramatic tropes a little too familiar, but the fanciful gags of “Turbo” aim for the younger hearts. The disparity between its “don’t-be-afraid-to-be-different” ideals and its generic comportment dulls its message, but its unlikely hero never really felt like a flag-bearer more so than a cutesy happy meal gift, anyway. Again, it’s harmless, though perhaps to a fault.
“Turbo” tells the story of Theo (voiced by Ryan Reynolds), a snail with a passion for racing. If that idea seems borrowed, that’s because it very probably is (think Remy, the rat from Pixar’s “Ratatouille” with a passion for cooking, crossed with the hot-for-wheels talking cars of “Cars”).
The film processes borrowed ideas enough to make them feel like a digestible whole. The overall presentation is a flashy one, heavy on visual sparkle and colorful characters, the best of which are voiced by actors such as Samuel L. Jackson, Paul Giamatti, and rapper Snoop Dogg.
Along the way, thumping hip-hop beats and funky slow-motion routines permeate most of the scenes. Director David Soren and cinematographer Wally Pfister create a fluid, dynamic universe with heavyweight vehicle mobility that lends the racing scenes some realism.
The contrast between Theo’s fate as a slow-moving creature and his fast-speed desires make him the ultimate underdog. Then things take a turn for the best and Theo suffers a superhero-like “accident” and gives him the speed of a race-car.
This magical aspect to the story works respectably, though the choice of a pray-for-a-miracle solution instead of a working-around-your-limitations one feels like a cheat. Celebrating the ability of Theo’s fellow snail racers to move around swiftly using circus-troupe like teamwork, for instance, would have been a more positive message for children.
Through a chance encounter with an equally spirited taco-merchant Tito (voiced by actor Michael Pena), Theo a.k.a. Turbo, begins eying the major racing competition, the Indy 500. What transpires next is more than guessable, so it is fortunate that Jackson, Giamatti, and, to a cringingly stereotypical level, Ken Jeong, boost their characters with snazzy voice-work, shooting off self-referential verbal acrobatics worth a few chuckles.
Best of all is veteran voice actor Michael Bell’s work as White Shadow, a heavyset snail slower than most, who considers himself a ninja-like master of speed.
The best way to go about “Turbo” is to consider it disposable fun. Its sentiments and dramatic arcs ham up nice but ultimately empty platitudes. There is a corporate sizzle saturating through its fine enough hour-plus, making it wiser to just go with the flow than analyze it.
Directed by David Sore
Starring Ryan Reynold, Paul Giamatti, Samuel L. Jackson
English with Indonesian subtitles