Andy Bockelman: DreamWorks’ ‘Turbo’ is a snail of a tale
July 25, 2013
If you go
“Turbo,” rated PG
Rating: 2.5 out of 4 stars
Running time: 96 minutes
Starring: Starring the voices of: Ryan Reynolds, Paul Giamatti, Michael Peña and Samuel L. Jackson
Now playing at Wildhorse Stadium Cinemas and Craig’s West Theatre.
Craig — Getting behind the wheel of a powerful auto capable of going well more than 200 mph must be a thrill. Watching someone spend hours turning slightly to the left, on the other hand, can be more than a little dull.
With that kind of mentality, one might not be expecting a lot of surprises from the cartoon "Turbo," but even something as repetitive as driving in a circle can be fun given the right circumstances.
Compared to the rest of his kind, Theo (voice of Ryan Reynolds) lives life in the fast lane. He's not particularly quicker than any of the other snails living in his garden, but his desire to somehow follow in the footsteps of racing champion Guy Gagné (Bill Hader) has made him an embarrassment to his older brother Chet (Paul Giamatti), who thinks slow is the only way to go.
Fate intervenes when Theo is sucked into the souped-up engine of a passing car and finds himself somehow imbued with some unusual new abilities, chiefly a velocity unlike any snail has had before. Although Chet thinks his brother's gift makes him a freak, the siblings' encounter with a taco truck driver (Michael Peña) could mean big things for the small speedster, whose dreams of being in the Indianapolis 500 just might come true.
Still, the concern remains: How can something an inch high compete against cars hundreds of times his size?
Reynolds' second cartoon feature of the year following "The Croods" finds him voicing another idealist who doesn't let the surrounding naysayers control his life, with the miraculous mollusk perhaps even more impressive than the actor's cave boy considering how limited the life of a snail can be. As the ultimate low rider, Theo, who prefers to be known as Turbo even before his happy accident, comes fully loaded with halogen-powered eyestalks, a radio receiver, alarm system and, of course, a physiology letting him burn up the ground and leave nothing but an electric blue streak in his wake.
Giamatti provides a fine balance as safety-conscious Chet, for whom the most exciting part of the day is harvesting the biggest tomato in their plot of soil. You'd think he'd be happy for his kid brother, but a guy who lives in mortal fear of humans, birds and — shudder — salt clearly doesn't keep an open mind.
Peña is muy bueno as Tito, one-half of Dos Bros Tacos, whose plans for using his little amigo to promote his flailing business doesn't sit well with his own disapproving hermano (Luis Guzmán) despite enthusiastic support from the other members of their shabby strip mall, which also serves as a snail racing venue.
That's right, snail racing.
Samuel L. Jackson commands respect as always voicing Whiplash, leader of a gang of resourceful gastropods who see in their new friend the potential for greatness — not to mention one of their own who actually can make it to the end of a yardstick in less than 17 minutes.
If you already saw this summer's "Epic," you might be getting tired of seeing life from the snail's point of view, even with a group of tiny adrenaline junkies whose shells are tricked out with auto must-haves like fins, spoilers and fuzzy dice. However, the real concern is how liberally the team at DreamWorks Animation borrows from their biggest contender's library.
A few similarities to the microscopic world of "A Bug's Life" aren't a big deal. An animal going against his nature and befriending a human is a little too much like "Ratatouille" but still hardly plagiarism.
But the clincher is an almost exact parallel to "Cars" with a racer who uses his skills on the track to help reinvigorate a dying community. Too bad that story already crossed the finish line seven years ago.
DreamWorks might always be in second place behind Pixar if it keeps following the pack of sure things rather than trying something risky, but what it lacks in story originality, it makes up for in fine humor and vivid, exhilarating animation that puts you right in the action of the speedway.
And when you're racing against a French-Canadian, the last thing you want to be is a speedy bit of escargot.
From "Dumbo" on, we've cheered for cute creatures that want to find acceptance for what makes them unusual, and "Turbo" still will get kids and their parents on their feet applauding. He might not be the kind of animal you want to cuddle, but giving him your love from a distance is just as good.
To reach Andy Bockelman, call 970-875-1793 or email abockelman@CraigDailyPress.com