This month at my local theater has been an interesting one to me for several reasons, and I must say I am particularly amused by the one resulted from an odd coincidence. In last week, I watched a South Korean film featuring a gorilla recruited to the major league baseball team, and now I have watched “Turbo”, an animation feature film about a snail dreaming of participating in the Indianapolis 500 car race. You may laugh about this, but the snail in question is indeed fast, and “Turbo” is a nice family animation film although the story itself could have been more creative and imaginative instead of being full of predictable turns, familiar clichés, and stock characters.
Its ever-hopeful hero is a standard underdog character right from his first appearance. Theo(voiced by Ryan Reynolds) is a tiny snail as slow as his fellow snails inhabiting in the small garden of a suburban home, but our dreamer snail never gives up his hope while immersing himself into the VHS footage of the Indianapolis 500 race every night. His hero is Guy Gagné (voiced by Bill Hader), a world-renowned race car driver who has won many awards as the leading champion of his field, and Theo wishes he will be as fast as Gagné someday though it still takes more 15 minutes for him to move about one meter at present.
Of course, Theo’s practical brother Chet(voiced by Paul Giamatti distinctively channeling his nerdy persona) thinks Theo wastes his time on the dream he will never fulfil, and he always tells his brother that he should concentrate more on their daily work at ‘the plant’. They and other snails spend most of their waking hours on harvesting the tomatoes in the garden, and all they have to do is just waiting on the stalks for the tomatoes to be ripened and then to be fallen to the ground. Although they do not have hands, they have an inventive way of slicing their harvested tomatoes before their meal time, and they also can make clapping sounds with their two eyes as shown during their routine meeting. That is nice, but I’d love to see how Theo can operate his personal TV and VHS player – how can he move the cassettes and insert them into the player, I wonder?
When it seems he will never realize his dream no matter how much he tries and he is about to give up his dream, Theo is accidentally thrown into the engine of one of those fancy vehicles from Fast and Furious movies, and, when the engine is boosted by nitrous oxide, Theo somehow gets a miraculous superpower instead of becoming a escargot barbecue. His body system is internally changed down to the molecular level(don’t ask me how that is biologically or chemically possible), and his body literally functions like a little sports car equipped with headlights, alarm, radio, and other things. Now he can run far, far faster than he ever did; when he speeds at more than 200-km/h, he looks like that fancy futuristic vehicle from “Tron”(1982) and its recent sequel as a long blue light streak is left behind him.
Renaming himself as ‘Turbo’, Theo soon draws the attention from not only other snails but also the human characters including Tito(voiced by Michael Peña), who also has his own dream to realize while working with his older brother Angelo(voiced by Luis Guzmán) in their humble taco shop. Tito is determined to use Theo for promoting their shop and neighboring shops, but Angelo is as jaded and realistic as Chet is, and you can clearly see the parallels between two duos here even if the story does not emphasize them blatantly.
Although I think there are more efficient and economical ways to present Theo’s superpower and accordingly help Angelo and Tito’s shop, Tito goes to the Indianapolis 500 race along with his friends who have supported him and his private snail race(I’m not kidding), and Theo and Chet are accompanied by a group of street-smart snails who can do lots of exciting things even though they cannot run as fast as Theo. They can do wire action like daredevil stunt guys, and we later see them riding the certain animals Theo and Chet never want to come across in broad daylight.
Voiced by Samuel L. Jackson, Snoop Dog, Maya Rudolph, and Ben Schwartz, and Mike Bell, these snail gangs provide most of the jokes and gags in the story as the colorful supporting characters. I was amused by their various shell decorations which make them look like small race car models(these decorations are provided by one of Tito’s friends), and their brash attitude is a good contrast to the neurotic personality of Chet, who is mistaken for a female snail at one point(Snails are hermaphrodite in fact, but never mind).
During the second half of the story, we get the unbelievable sight of Theo getting a chance to compete in the Indianapolis 500(Chet is understandably outraged: “Has the whole world lost its mind!?”). I do not think the people can be that serious or enthusiastic about a speedy snail, but Theo quickly becomes a media star as soon as his superpower is exposed to the social media, and, this is not much of a spoiler, he is finally placed on the start point along with other race car drivers including Gagné, who turns out to be not as inspiring as Theo thought. Seriously, I do not think the camera can spot a small snail amid the big speeding vehicles on the racetrack so clearly like that, but this is the world of animation where anything can happen and can be accepted, so maybe I should not complain about that from the beginning.
I enjoyed watching “Turbo” – to some degrees. Like any usual blockbuster animation features nowadays, it is bright and colorful to watch and enjoy, and I saw the kids having an entertaining time during the screening in last evening. As an adult audience, I was tickled its straight approach for pushing its outrageous premise and appreciated its sly humor behind it, but I still think the movie could have more crazy fun with that.