“No dream is too big, and no dreamer is too small.”
That’s the repeated message of DreamWorks Animation’s Turbo, a story that combines the best in underdog racing cinema with an animal that is criminally underutilized in animated movies: snails.
Theo (Ryan Reynolds) is an average snail who spends his days working on the tomato farm, and his nights dreaming about being the fastest racer in the world. Unfortunately for Theo, or Turbo as he likes to call himself, he isn’t even a racing snail. He’s a measly garden snail living in a suburban flower bed. But one night, after being told by his whole community, including his brother Chet (Paul Giamatti), that he needs to give up his foolish dreams, he takes off into the night to watch cars race by.
Through a freak series of falls, Turbo lands on the hood of a drag racer in a Need For Speed-like scene. Once the car takes off, Turbo is sucked inside and accidentally infused with nitrous oxide. That nitro leads him to be much faster than the average snail. He finds himself able to travel in excess of 200 miles per hour, which takes him all the way to the Indy 500.
I’ll be honest, I was initially hoping for a less than stellar movie with some lulls in the plot so I could throw in a few snail jokes about the slow pacing. Unfortunately for my puns, they’ll have to stay in the vault today as Turbo is as fast-paced as its nitrous-fueled hero. The story deftly moves from one scene to the next, with everything propelling the plot along in exciting ways. Though it’s a bit too predictable at times, the plot is tighter than most kids’ movies on the market, and that makes for a very entertaining film.
When it comes to the voice work, it’s excellent. Ryan Reynolds shows he’s very capable of leading an animated feature. He provides an energetic tone and the proper amount of hope that is required for his character. He hits Turbo’s happiest moments and saddest moments with equal skill.
A couple other highlights of the voice acting are Michael Peña and Bill Hader. Peña’s Tito is a likable, hopeful character, and his voice work is on par with Reynolds’ when it comes to conveying that. He doesn’t dig too deep into the stereotypes that could go with his character, keeping it simple and effective for the most part. While Hader’s French accent for Guy Gagné is a bit over-the-top at times, his character is still very entertaining, and the range Hader shows makes Guy a lot of fun. The biggest complaint I have with Guy is that there’s never an escargot joke, which must have taken great restraint on the part of director and co-writer David Soren.
The little details and decisions found in the film make it even better than the story alone would, and much of that credit belongs to Soren. For example, the fact the snails only speak to each other and not to the humans keeps the story tight and opens the door to some of the funniest jokes in the movie, such as the recurring one about Chet’s gender. In animated films, sometimes the little things can go a long way, and that is definitely the case for Turbo.
Where the film does fall short is in the laughs. There are very few funny parts, and that’s including parts that only a younger audience may find humorous. This isn’t a huge issue, especially since there’s a quality story present and the filmmakers weren’t having to rely purely on laughs for success, but it would’ve been nice to have seen a bit more. There’s a ton of possibility for hilarious jokes with a cast of snails, but unfortunately the film fails to live up to its potential in that aspect. There was a slight salt joke, but it was never fully expanded on. I suppose that makes sense though considering the image of a salted snail probably isn’t the best for a family feature, but still, I was really hoping for some great snail puns here.
Unfortunately, the story is fairly predictable too, which likely won’t be a problem for its young target audience but may bore a few older moviegoers. I won’t reveal the biggest problem our diminutive hero runs into near the end of the movie, but most of you will see it coming 500 miles away. That being said, even when you know exactly what is coming, it still comes in a fun, entertaining way, so it’s hard to complain too much about the predictability.
Aside from the main message of follow your dream no matter how big it is, the movie also gives a very strong message of perseverance, and living life to the fullest. Even when everyone around him is content, Turbo is determined to make the most of today, just in case his gift is gone tomorrow. That makes this a story with substance, not just silliness, which is something that’s always important for family films to consider.
Turbo is not the next great children’s classic and it’s not on the level of recent DreamWorks hits like How To Train Your Dragon, but it’s a fun film with a quality story and a good message that can be enjoyed by both adults and children.