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Turbo – Movie Review

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Turbo – Movie Review

Rating: B+ (Very Good)

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One of the powers of animation is the ability to take any ridiculous concept and somehow make it work. Such is the case with Turbo, whose premise of a snail racing the Indianapolis 500 sounds like an insane idea for a feature film. However, by combining this with the classic underdog sports flick formula, director/co-writer David Soren has created a heartwarming and whimsical tale. In the past number of years, DreamWorks Animation has slowly moved away from the comedic parodies they constantly churned out during their Shrek period and focused on wacky storylines filled with heart and genuine humour. Anybody who criticises the studio for being a pop-culture spewing factory has not watched their recent efforts.

One of the key ingredients to making a successful underdog story is to put a likeable protagonist at the centre and with his gung-ho attitude and cute character design, Turbo definitely fits the bill. His dream of becoming a race-car driver is infectious and with the snails’ sad existence of watching ripe tomatoes grow, it is difficult not to root for our little shelled friend to succeed. His relationship with taco seller Tito is especially sweet and heartwarming as the two find a certain kinship in their similar goals and lack of success. The film even not-so-subtly shows the similarities between their doubting brothers, furthering the message by saying even nay-sayers should not get in the way of your wishes. While Turbo is a comedy, it slows down and manages to tug at the heartstrings with the more dramatic scenes between Turbo and either his snail brother Chet or human friend Tito. With the big expressive eyes these characters are given, the animators are given a lot to work with and do an impressive job.

The attention to detail David Soren and his team brings to Turbo also deserves to be commended, especially the contrasting between the three major locations: the small tomato garden the snails inhabit, the down-on-its-luck strip mall and the Indianapolis Speedway. Each setting has its own organic feel that manages to transport the audience there. The use of size ratio is especially commendable and the stunning cinematography increases the danger in a snail’s life. A high-flying sequence with a group of crows and a tense confrontation between Turbo and a grass-cutting gardener are some of the highlights of the film for this very reason. The story team is also creative in coming up with Turbo’s car-like abilities and the slow learning process our hero goes through, upon discovering them.

 The stand-out sequence, as with any sports movie, is the Final Race. While faithfully recreating the Indianapolis 500 Speedway, Soren keeps the final act exciting and tense as Turbo makes every turn and avoids the cars. Turbo even entertains the possibility of him losing the race, which ups the heart-pumping thrill of the climax. While the racer Turbo idolizes is the obvious villain from the start, he’s a necessary step in making the race as intense as the filmmakers can possibly make it. They definitely took many trips to the races to get the necessary feel and even accurately displaying the tire problems and crashes one expects to see in dangerous sports like IndyCar and Formula 1. The filmmakers also cleverly manage to tie earlier components of the plot to the final race and because of warming up to Turbo from the very beginning, that makes the final act all the more thrilling.

 The humour of Turbo also more than succeeds, with Turbo’s battle with rotten tomatoes being a winning gag early on. Chet’s continuous bouts with danger is also played strictly for frequently funny purposes and along with the drama of those scenes, the friendship between Turbo and Tito present some humourous little moments among them. Working very well is the voice work from Ryan Reynolds and Paul Giamatti. Their odd couple sibling rivalry is beautifully performed by both actors with the animators doing some tremendous work on their facial expressions. Reynolds brings his likeable charm to Turbo, while Giamatti fits comfortably into the part of a snail.

However, the rest of the cast seems chosen purely because of their celebrity names. Why hire a talented comic like Ben Schwartz and give him three lines at most? Maya Rudolph and Michelle Rodriguez’s casting are similarly pointless, while Samuel L Jackson and Snoop Dog are merely playing themselves in snail bodies. The little old lady Ken Jeong voices is particularly distracting, as she seems to be included in the story purely because the filmmakers wanted Jeong to perform his usual shtick. Much like the Furious Five in Kung Fu Panda, this is yet another case of celebrities being hired for their names, while professional voice-over actors would have brought so much more to these supporting characters.

Turbo has a great heart that gives its formulaic underdog story a special kind of warmth and while making a snail the lead seems like a crazy idea, leave it to a talented group of animators to make the idea work. David Soren fills the story with so much charm and sweetness without becoming overly schmaltzy. Turbo does not try too hard to gain an emotion or laughter and that is key to its success. One of the most genuine surprises of the summer, this is another solid addition to the DreamWorks Animation catalogue and shows that any idea is worth exploring, no matter how strange and oddball it might seen.

Review By: Stefan Ellison

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