It’s become quite the trend for animation flicks to pick unlikely critters as their heroes – rats, ants, bugs – and the newest, littlest beasties to join the club are snails. The latest from Dream Works Animation Studios – who have already had a smash hit this year, The croods – is Turbo, which features a miniscule mollusc who doesn’t want life to move at snail’s pace. His dreams lie at the Speedy Gonzales end of the speedometer. But there are a lot of laps to be covered before the snail with the dream., Theo (voiced by Ryan Reynolds) becomes Turbo the competitor at the Indianapolis 500 race.
While Theo’s Compatriots are content eating tomatoes and formulating strategies to avoid becoming tasty tidbits for crows. Theo watches racing legend Guy Gagne (Bill Hader) on TV. He believes the smarmy Gagne’s pitch about “No dream is too big and no dreamer too small”; viewers are likely to pick up on the warning that Gagne’s bonhomie might be more indicative of a marketing monster than a goodhearted mentor. A strange freak accident sees Theo get sucked into a car engine where he is flooded with nitrous oxide – which somehow manages to rewrite his genetic code, so he now gets the DNA he wanted. Not just speed, but super speed that lets him move at a blur leaving a vapour trail of blue in his wake.
Subsequently, Theo/Turbo, and his nay-saying brother Chet (an excellent Paul Giamatti) are thrown out of the tomato patch. Their paths cross that of Tito(Michael Paths), who not only helps his brothers serve tacos out of a truck in a seedy Los Angels strip mall, but also races snails. What luck!
Action gets pedal to the metal when Turbo joins Tito’s molluse menagerie, (voices include that of Samuel L. Jackson, Snoop Dogg, Maya Rudolph) a wacky lot who have been hitten by the speed bug without the benefits of Theo’s freak enhancements. They are hugely supportive of Turbo;s racing dreams – nice life lesson here for younsters about the value of friends and team – building.
Directed by David Soren — and written by Soren, Darren Lemke and Robert Siegel – The film is par for the course as a metaphor about our own human desire to move out of designated boxes and realise our truest dream. The film is claverly edited to compensate for the innate slowness of the snails, the animation is charming, and there are lots of jokes, gags and fun characters to keep the pace going. Along the way to the finishing line, also, are numerous villains : the munchy crows who provide a startling jolt every so often, a nasty kid on wheels who likes crushing little bugs, and of course, eventually, Gagne.
What’s going for the escargots is the undeniable appeal of seeing the underdog do good. However, the story’s narrative journey in many ways is like racing at the indianapolis race track – the route is well mapped, you see almost too well where you are going. While the laps are completed in a very creditable and entertaining way, there are no unexpected twists or turns.