Dec 23, 2013

[Movies] Turbo (2013)

There are some movies that come along that just make me wonder what the producers were thinking in putting it together. As much as Hollywood is a realm of nearly infinite possibilities and they're free to come up with any ideas that they want, there are always going to be those concepts that leave you scratching your head.

Turbo felt that way for me. After all, it's a movie about a snail who dreams of racing in the Indy 500. Who comes up with an idea like that? Who comes up with the marketing logic that a snail racing movie is going to hit it off with kids or some other market segment? Whatever the reason, the movie got made and there it is.

But the movie received fairly good reviews during its theatrical run and made a decent profit at the box office. It has also been confirmed that this quirky group of snails will also get a television series called Turbo F.A.S.T. which will air on Netflix.

So I guess there really is a market for CGI-animated racing snails.

Synopsis: Turbo is a 2013 CGI-animation movie produced by DreamWorks Animation. It was directed by David Soren, who also came up with the concept behind it. The screenplay was written by Soren, Robert Siegel and Darren Lemke.

Theo (Ryan Reynolds) is a snail with big dreams. In this case, he wants to become the fastest racer in the world like his idol, Indy 500 champion Guy Gagné. Of course the idea of a fast snail is pretty silly, even among his fellow snails who treat his obsession as an odd quirk in his personality. His more traditional older brother, Chet (Paul Giamatti), is constantly trying to get Theo to focus more on the conventional aspects of snail life like harvest tomatoes and evading the bully kid next door, but all this is to little avail.

One night, Theo wishes upon a star to become fast and a freak accident involving him getting sucked into the supercharger of some drag racing vehicle leaves him a natural supply of nitro in his system. When he recovers from the initial accident, he discovers that he is indeed far faster than any snail and even most vehicles with his new nitro powers. He catches the attention of Tito (Michael Peña), a taco truck driver. Tito then tries to find a way to get Theo - now Turbo - into the Indy 500 to achieve all of their dreams of success.

So not only is this a movie about a snail who dreams about being fast, but he's actually aiming for a chance to race in the Indianapolis 500. And for a children's movie, I suppose that's a good enough concept to begin with. After all, if you're going to focus on a racing snail, you might as well push things to the limit and have him race against some of the fastest cars in the world, right?

I had totally missed out on the fact that Theo/Turbo had been voiced by Ryan Reynolds. Admittedly, a little orange snail isn't precisely the kind of animated avatar that you'd expect to represent the rather physically impressive Reynolds. But he does rather well in the movie in terms of giving Turbo his voice.

The animation is really what's front and center here and the folks at DreamWorks Animation have certainly refined their craft to a pretty impressive level. They decision to really push the nitro effect for Turbo's racing moments and the overall use speed lines really helped present the illusion of speed. I especially liked how his actual Indy race was presented - including the weaker moments that had him seeing certain things as stuff from his past including giant tomatoes and of course the lawnmower. Very good visualization indeed.

And credit to the folks who designed the whole race sequence. Someone really did their research (or is probably quite passionate about the race to begin with) and made sure to add in all those little complexities that make the race so popular.

There was certainly an effort to have some adult-oriented humor to reward those who brought their kids with them to the theater, I suppose. A good example is the decision to cast Samuel L. Jackson as Whiplash, the leader of the Starlight Plaza snail crew that Turbo gets to meet. This truly is Samuel L. Jackson in snail for - the only thing missing is his liberal use of profanities as seen in his more mature feature films.

Given that Turbo was first faced with the challenge of finding a way to be faster, I felt that was a pretty strong concept to pattern the movie around. It's your basic "man vs self" story (in a manner of speaking), so I'm not all that sure why they had to introduce an additional "villain" element towards the end. The scene of watching the two try to get to the finish line against all odds was certainly visually interesting, but not necessarily all that key to the whole story.

Turbo is a fun movie that's great for kids if you want to inspire them to push their limits. However the humor for older audiences isn't quite there and you may spot larger pacing issues with the film. For me, the movie only rates 4 crazy snail acrobatics by Whiplash and his crew out of a possible 5.

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