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Movie review: 'Turbo' all flash, not a lot of substance

Posted: July 24, 2013 - 5:36pm  |  Updated: July 25, 2013 - 8:21am
This film publicity image released by DreamWorks Animation shows Turbo, voiced by Ryan Reynolds, in a scene from the animated movie "Turbo," about an underdog snail whose dreams kick into overdrive when he miraculously attains the power of super-speed. (AP Photo/DreamWorks Animation)  AP
AP
This film publicity image released by DreamWorks Animation shows Turbo, voiced by Ryan Reynolds, in a scene from the animated movie "Turbo," about an underdog snail whose dreams kick into overdrive when he miraculously attains the power of super-speed. (AP Photo/DreamWorks Animation)

“Turbo”

DreamWorks Animation

1 hour, 36 minutes

 

Why is a snail who races in the Indy 500 any less legitimate a subject for an animated kid’s movie than a panda bear who learns kung fu? On the face of it, the two premises are equal — equally absurd, silly, and inherently comedic.

One of these films, however, is great, bordering on instant classic status, while the other is merely a so-so brightly colored afternoon diversion, to be forgotten faster than the junk food my kids consumed while watching it. The difference is that with “Kung Fu Panda,” the filmmakers put some effort into the story and the characters, as well as into the amusing visuals. This week’s “Turbo” is, unfortunately, little more than a cute premise in search of a movie.

Theo, voiced by Ryan Reynolds, is a snail who dreams of speed. More than anything else in the world, Theo wants to go fast. The theme of the movie is “you can do anything you put your mind to,” but as I said, not a lot of thought went into this movie.

The simple fact that the movie never gets around is, you can’t actually do anything you put your mind to. Theo is a snail, but no matter how often his annoyingly downbeat, yet perfectly logical brother Chet, voiced by Paul Giamatti, attempts to clue him in, our hero refuses to give up his dream.

Some dreams, however, don’t require determination, but rather poor writing and a freak accident involving a nitrous oxygen bath, both of which “Turbo” has in spades. Our hero, after being spit out the tail pipe of a souped up street racer, suddenly finds that he is in possession of strange powers, chief among them being a supernaturally swift shell.

This new oddness causes Theo and his brothers to be ostracized from polite snail society and plunges them into the dark underworld of snail racing, a sport that, as far as I could tell, involved taking ordinary snails and gluing tiny fins and decals onto the back of their shells.

Heading up the race is taco salesman Tito and his sad fellow denizens of a dying strip mall. When he sees what Theo, now called Turbo, can do, he dreams of exploiting the snail to help boost sales at his brother’s taco stand. But Turbo’s dreams are bigger: The Indy 500.

This all sounds pretty ridiculous, but plays out pretty quietly and quickly. “Turbo’s” problem isn’t that it is obnoxious, it’s just that it all feels cursory, like it’s all surface area. Now, I don’t need my animated movies to be Ibsen or anything, but I would like the plot to make some kind of sense, and the filmmaker should be prepared to answer inevitable questions.

Chief among them, why doesn’t Turbo simply fry in his shell when he is moving fast enough on his bare foot to outpace a racecar? I understand suspension of disbelief, but the plot holes in “Turbo” simply felt like questions no one had ever bothered to ask, let alone answer.

It’s pointless to go into every inconsistency and illogical turn in a cartoon about a super-fast snail, but suffice it to say that the whole thing felt slightly shoddy — low rent. The animation is fine, even impressive, at times, but the rest of the production is merely adequate.

The voice talent, from Reynolds to guest stars like Samuel L. Jackson and Snoop Dogg, seem to be giving it their all, but there’s not a whole lot to work with.

My kids did enjoy the movie quite a bit, but time will tell whether or not it will stick. I’ve certainly seen worse movies — the last “Ice Age” comes to mind — but I was still somewhat disappointed, especially with the high level of children’s entertainment displayed this summer so far. “Monsters University” was very good, and I also really enjoyed “Despicable Me 2,” which, while not being as good as the original, was still very sweet and very funny, and very clever.

“Turbo” is nice enough, but if you have a choice, it’s definitely at the bottom of the list of animated movies this year so far.

Grade: C+

“Turbo” is rated PG for a few mild rude elements, I suppose. I didn’t really see anything that required a PG.

 

Chris Jenness is a freelance graphic designer, artist and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.

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