CAST: Ryan Reynolds, Paul Giamatti, Michael Peña, Snoop Dogg, Maya Rudolph, Michelle Rodriguez, Samuel L. Jackson, Luis Guzmán, Bill Hader, Richard Jenkins, Ken Jeong, Tom Schwartz
RUNNING TIME: 96 mins
BASICALLY…: A snail named Turbo (Reynolds) dreams of living a faster life, which he achieves after a freak accident and he suddenly develops strange car powers, including super-speed…
NOW FOR THE REVIEW…
In their early days of being one of the many animation studios formed after the success of Pixar, DreamWorks Animation built up something of a bad reputation for more or less taking Pixar’s basic ideas and doing their own thing with it. Their film Antz came out around the same time as Pixar’s own insect movie A Bug’s Life; their aquatic misfire Shark Tale had one too many similarities with Finding Nemo; and even later into their back catalogue with 2010’s Megamind did people tear it apart from basically copying The Incredibles. Thankfully, from the release of How To Train Your Dragon onwards, DreamWorks has finally gained some credibility for drafting its own set of stories that hold up well on their own and have original concepts that were genuinely interesting. See also the Kung Fu Panda and Madagascar movies, The Croods, and the understated if flawed Rise of the Guardians.
But now, we have Turbo.
Like its protagonist in one or two throwaway jokes regarding its automobile state – this shall be detailed, don’t you worry – the studio has gone into reverse regarding its creative department. Undoubtedly their weakest outing since Shark Tale, DreamWorks Animations’ latest tale somehow takes the concepts of not one, but TWO Pixar movies and shamelessly mashes them together to make an awkward, contrived and constructed experience.
No attempt is made at all to disguise how they’re practically stealing concepts – and sometimes even exact shots and angles – from their rival studio. The basic plot sees a small anthropomorphic creature be inspired by a figure he sees on TV to follow his dream of doing something no-one else, not even his own kind, can see something like him doing. Not only that, but with the help of a dim-witted human companion who at first captures him before befriending him once he discovers his talent his dreams are accomplished with inspiring, yet humble, results. Picked up on which Pixar film they’ve ripped off yet? Let’s just say, we smell a rat…
And of course, the Cars comparison goes without saying, given its racing theme and scenes set on a racetrack. Those movies may not have been good, Cars 2 especially, but they did at least do its own thing and stand steadily on its own two legs (except Cars 2).
So, as you can imagine, one of Turbo’s biggest problems is that its story is so effortlessly ripped off of two Pixar movies for the price of one that it becomes distracting after a while. As a result, originality heavily lacks and other elements are so clichéd and tired you actually refuse to believe that the exact same studio made How To Train Your Dragon just three years ago. It’s phenomenal in how much they seen to have not cared in providing a decent movie to add to their roster here, especially at a time when their films are sometimes even better than a handful of Pixar’s latest releases. Once again they are mooching off of their rival’s bigger successes to minimum impact.
However, just read the story line at the top of this page. No wonder they’re copy-and-pasting from Pixar, since they don’t seem to have had much luck on their own. As far as animated films go, and that’s saying a lot, this is one of the dumber plot lines in recent times, with a story filled with more holes than a pub dartboard. One of the biggest instances actually drives the plot: Turbo (voiced by Ryan Reynolds) gets his “mystical car powers”…
…through being sucked into the engine of a car straight out of the Fast and Furious movies and being doused with the car’s nitrous oxide, which somehow alters his DNA and thus gives him his new abilities. It being a kid’s movie is a fair enough reason for it not instantly killing the poor creature, but the idea of Nitrous Oxide being the magical potion, as it were, is a rather worrying ideal to pass down to young kids. We are not scientists so we don’t know if it is poisonous or anything, but even so the message that “to become a superhero, all you need is nitrous oxide!” is rather weird in sending mixed messages to them. God, where’s the Mythbusters guys when you need them?
The point still stands, however, that there are too many things about this movie that make little sense regarding its plot. But surely the characters can be strong enough to carry the movie? Sadly, a little red flag must go up in that area also.
Turbo himself is a generic bland hero character, yet another one to add to the list of “wide-eyed, inspired dream-achievers” that dominate so many animated movies nowadays. Reynolds once again this year tackles material which gives him little to do, but like with R.I.P.D you can’t fault him for a lousy and unoriginal script. Michael Peña, who voices Turbo’s human manager Tito, unfortunately gets a character to play that is just irritating in how stupid he has been written. Hey, if you met a guy that wants to bet a good chunk of his family’s money on the success of a snail, you’d back away too. Fast or no, putting hard-earned life savings into a gastropod of all things is a really stupid thing to do and this character does not do himself favours when he gets into even stupider situations where he very rightfully gets beaten. There isn’t much of a connection between him and Turbo either, and when the movie tries to establish one it comes off as uncomfortably forced and even creepy. At one point, Tito makes a little bed for his little friend to sleep in – keep in mind, this is a SNAIL we’re talking about – and even kisses him goodnight. You read that right: a grown human male kisses a slimy insect that’s probably all covered in germs and dirt and God knows what else. Why this guy isn’t admitted by film’s end, we’ll never know. But he needs to be, for not just his sake but for ours as well.
The majority of the other supporting characters range from obnoxious to obnoxiously forgettable. Michelle Rodriguez is completely wasted as a fellow human mechanic despite being amongst the top billing; as is the ever-wonderful Richard Jenkins as a guy who you don’t even remember what his role in the entire flick even was. Ken Jeong also pops up in a strange cross-gender role as a small woman with the same characteristics and voice of the actor’s infamous Mr Chow, and again he’s more annoying than he is funny; and Bill Hader also shows up as a rival racer whose egotism and French accent make him the most obvious villain since Ben Affleck in Runner Runner.
Meanwhile, within the mollusc supporting cast, you have to wonder why established names like Snoop Dogg, Maya Rudolph and even Samuel L. Jackson were cast if there is absolutely nothing to their stock side characters. The only character out of both snail and human casts to actually have a sense of logic, and therefore the only one to establish an emotional connection with the audience, is Turbo’s brother Chet as voiced by Paul Giamatti. Yet, despite his clear and forward-thinking mind, he is seen as the unsupportive family member archetype found in most other sports films who inevitably changes his mind by film’s end. A later scene when Turbo is accepted into the Indianapolis 500 racing event and every other character is cheering, Chet is screaming about how the world seems to have lost its mind. Given the insane notion of events, you not only get his viewpoint, but also side with it constantly.
There is not much to really like about Turbo, although the animation can be very pretty to look at despite the cartoony design of the characters. It’s not really that funny either, thanks to the use of some sight gags that have worn out their welcome and some truly cringeworthy puns – all you need to know is that one of them is “Snailed it!”.
But if DreamWorks was in fact going this route in delivering a product so inferior to their other works as of late, they have truly “snailed it”.
SO, TO SUM UP…
Turbo is strictly for children only, but even then it’s detrimental to their intelligence and a cause for boredom for parents. With boring characters, a stupid premise and a distracting theft of the plots and themes of Ratatouille and the Cars movies, this movie represents all that is wrong with DreamWorks Animation’s new reputation as a studio to rival Pixar.