MOVIE REVIEW: TURBO
Who doesn’t love an underdog story? You cheer, your heart races, you slowly rise up out of your seat in the theater as if willing your hero to victory. Well, now it’s time to cheer for one of the most unlikely of underdogs - and heroes - TURBO! A little garden snail with big dreams, TURBO wins the box office race this week, crossing the finish line first with humor and heart!!
Theo is your average garden snail. Together with his brother Chet and about a hundred other snails, he goes to work everyday in “The Plant” - a tomato garden where the snails work together to process the tomatoes, i.e., eat holes in them. The whistle of the homeowner’s morning tea kettle signals the start of the workday where slow, steady and safe are the watchwords of the day; except for Theo who dreams of speed. By night, he watches auto racing on tv, particularly his idol Guy Gagne the fastest racer in thee world, and practices his own speedy skills, timing himself as he inches along a yardstick. His current record is 36 inches in 17 minutes! Chet poo-poos Theo’s ambitions and derides his love of racing. After all, what’s so interesting about watching cars race in repetitive circles around a track? For Chet, life is all about slow, steady and cautious...and looking out for crows, falling tomatoes, lawnmowers and bad little boys on tricycles who like to squish snails by running them over.
Thanks to a work-related accident at The Plant, Theo soon finds himself out in the real world and on the means streets of the 101 freeway and the Los Angeles wash. But as scary as the world is for a little snail, imagine Theo’s excitement when he finds that he has been carried and blown through the air, landing on a drag racer in the middle of an illegal drag race in the wash! Suctioning himself to the hood of the car, the race begins and Theo is living his dream. He’s going fast, faster than fast! But then life takes an even more wonderful turn as Theo is sucked into the car’s engine and becomes super-charged, super-fast and TURBO-ized!!!!
Trying out his new speed, TURBO is picked up by Tito, one-half of Dos Bros Tacos, and taken back to the North Hollywood Starlight Strip Mall where business is bad and all the store owners spend their time racing snails. But these aren’t just any snails! Each racing snail is trash talking and street smart and has been pimped out with little motors and customized adornments compliments of the shopkeepers - hobby store owner Bobby, garage owner Paz and a manicurist Kim Ly - and let nothing stand in the way of their own need for speed. Using common items around the strip mall, each tries to outdo the other with tricks of parkour, cups and paper for parachuting, telephone lines as zip lines, but now 200 mph TURBO has just joined the fold. He is the epitome of all of their dreams.
For Tito, always put down by his elder brother Angelo (much like TURBO and Chet), he sees TURBO as a way to gain attention and bring customers to their floundering business, and that of the other store owners; not to mention showing Angelo that he’s not the dumb younger brother. And what better way than entering a snail in the Indy 500! For TURBO, this is a dream come true as it means he will be pitted against his idol, his hero, Guy Gagne.
But it’s gonna take more than one little snail to pull this off and with Chet also in tow, Tito, Kim Ly, Paz and Bobby, along with their snails Whiplash, Burn, Smoove Move, Skid Mark and White Shadow, head out on a road trip to Indianapolis and hopefully, Indy glory.
When I attended a DreamWorks animation “sneak peak” before Christmas 2012, TURBO was the one animation that I was ambivalent about. Having said that, and now having seen the final product, let me say that TURBO far exceeds my expectations on every level!! Story and characters soar as does the voicing, but where screenwriters Darren Lemke, Robert D. Siegel and co-writer/director David Soren truly excel is with ethnic diversity. Subtle yet distinctive not only in animation design, but in voicing and the physicality and personas given to not only each snail, but each person, each identifiable voice actor has notable traits that animation has built in to the respective voice characters.
Samuel L. Jackson's Whiplash is a scream, but as Smoove Move, Snoop Dogg wins the day for not only voicing a snail but breathing life into a snail that has the Snoop Dogg/Lion vibe. Maya Rudolph getting into snail mode by feeling “I was going to be a snail in my future”, is a gum-smacking treat as Burn. With a demeanor that harkens back to Garry Marshall’s “Happy Days” and Pinky Tuscadero or even Stockard Channing’s Rizzo in “Grease”, Rudolph brightens the story and even adds a little romance with adoration for Chet. And what about Chet? Paul Giamatti's Chet just steals your heart with his sad sack downer attitude. One look at Chet and you really do think Giamatti. As comes as no surprise, the uber talented Bill Hader is scene stealing as Frenchman, Guy (rhymes with “Me”) Gagne, oozing false charm that is slicker than the oiliest oil slick on the track!
But then there's Ryan Reynolds. Animators did a fantastic job with Theo/Turbo as with the eyes, the movements, and you "see" Reynolds in all his boyish piss & vinegar charm bring TURBO to life.
Adding that certain something to make TURBO just a little more special is racing legend, Mario Andretti, who lends his voicing talents in two smalls roles - as a customer of Dos Bros Tacos and as one of the Indy racing officials.
When it comes to the “human” characters, no one could have done better than Luis Guzman as Angelo. Similarly, Michael Pena brings an innocence and naivete to Tito. Michelle Rodriguez, already known for her roles in “The Fast and the Furious” franchise, is perfect as garage owner Paz. Kurtwood Smith provides a nicely dower and commanding touch as the Indycar President. The real character surprise, however, is Richard Jenkins who is beyond a delight as hobby shop owner Bob.
But above all, this story is filled with so much heart, so much friendship, so much camaraderie and sends such a positive message about believing in one's self and to dream big, ‘cause dreams really do come true. While predictable in its outcome, TURBO is filled with twists and turns of life, metaphorically set within the twists and turns of a race track. Heartfelt and entertaining, during my screening, noticeable was that the kids in the theater were riveted to the screen the whole time, many of whom even stayed through the credits!
The animation, while having a sense of realism, also has an animated sensibility that adds to the idea of fantasy and big dreams. Beyond the individual attention paid to the design of each snail, one of the most beautiful animated sequences is The Plant. The garden sequences are simply beautiful with all of the plants, cone trellises, tomatoes and ALL of the lovely little snails are so detailed and wondrous. I want to live in that tomato garden. Color is eye-popping without being over-saturated. Animation doesn't get "high gloss" or "sleek" except with the high power snail motors which glisten and gleam, and TURBO gleaming just a bit more than anyone else.
Racing sequences are unparalleled with detail both in animation and sound design. Director Soren, with his first animated feature, really outdoes himself capturing the TURBO POV pitted against the rubber marbles, sneaking under the cars, zipping through gravel and metal, etc. which just adds to the excitement. Overall, the film speeds along with its pacing, never lagging or having any extended pit stops.
While a real “Los Angeles” film with all of the locales and touchstones to various communities that make up the region, TURBO also incorporates the Indy 500 which will appeal to racing fans the world over. The Indy 500 crosses every ethnic, regional and economic line there is, a factor that just adds to the diversity of TURBO. Standout is all the product placement. I am so glad I wasn't working the legal clearance department. Pulling in all the real Indy sponsors into the film in their actual sponsorship capacities just revs things up even more.
One of the best and most appropriately designed music scores of the year from Henry Jackman, not to mention the soundtrack titles, the music is dynamic, energetic and I can't get the end song out of my head! But I gotta say, my fave sequence and song is the mash-up of "Eye of the Tiger" and just as the opening bars start playing, thanks to perfectly timed editing, we hear the Indy announcers saying, "It's rocky going out there!" If that isn't a delicious tongue-in-cheek nod to one of the all-time favorite film underdogs, Rocky Balboa, I don't know what is! Brilliant! I loved it!!!
And I can’t emphasize this enough - stay for the credits! Awesomely fun design using a taco truck menu board, complete with unmatched letters!
TURBO had me smiling from start to finish with my smile just getting bigger as the story progressed. There are moments you want to stand up and cheer - like when TURBO is declared allowed to race or when he keeps going even when damaged or when Chet tackles all of his fears to cheer his brother on and inspire him to greatness. . . Let’s face it, TURBO is a winner.
TURBO IS TERRIFIC! Start your engines! It's TURBO-TIME!
Directed by David Soren
Written by Darren Lemke, Robert D. Siegel, David Soren
Voice Cast: Ryan Reynolds, Paul Giamatti, Michael Pena, Luiz Guzman, Samuel L. Jackson, Maya Rudolph, Snoop Dogg, Bill Hader, Richard Jenkins, Michelle Rodriguez, Mario Andretti