I feel the need... the need for speed(y snails)
When you see a trailer for yet another anthropomorphic children's movie you get a little suspicious, especially when that movie isn't made by Pixar. When the things being anthrpomorphized are snails you become even more skeptical. And when those anthropomorphized snails have a host of famous names plastered across the top of their movie's poster, like so many animated films do in order to attract viewers to their less than quality offerings? Well, then you damn near throw in the towel in when it comes to enjoying the film.
That would be a mistake with Turbo (but possibly not any other snail-based movies that fit into the above description).
Turbo is the tale of a snail (sorry, had to say that once) named Turbo (Ryan Reynolds) who is obsessed with speed and to that end Indy car racing. Unfortunately for him he's a snail so he's slow and has to work at the local tomato plant with his down-to earth brother Chet (Paul Giamatti). However, after a freak accident Turbo gets turbo speed and through a series of only-believable-to-children turn of events he ends up as a contender in the Indy 500 racing against his idol, French Candadian Guy Gagné (Bill Hader), for a team funded by a Taco truck owned by a pair of brothers, Tito (Michael Peña) and Angelo (Luis Guzman).
Obviously the story is far from believable, even when talking animals are concerned, but, as with most children's movies, it's more about the themes and fun than logic and story. Turbo treads over pretty familiar themes about chasing your dreams and believing in one's self, but it does it with a clever screenplay and charm that make the tropes feel fun and fresh again. It's also such an oddball premise that everything in it feels fresh even when it isn't.
The real shining aspect of the film, at least visually, is the racing. Once Turbo gets his speed on the film is a blast to watch and once he's in the Indy 500 it's stellar. The animation is fantastic, as we're to expect now from Dreamworks, but it's first-time director David Soren's impressive ability weave the scenes together that really make it work. Soren, who has been working on Dreamworks films as a writer and animator for a while now, impressively steps up here. I'd pay to see him direct a live action race movie any day. Of course, your kids will simply be googly-eyed at the spectacle, but it's always great for adults to have their interest held captive as well.
The movie does release in 3D and it does look great. The racing sequences are really fantastic with a bit of depth, but they'd be fantastic without it as well. Unless you're a big 3D fan keep your money in your wallet for this one.
Despite the aforementioned qualities, the movie itself wouldn't have amounted to much if it wasn't for some of the best voice acting in quite a while. It's so good I'm actually mentioning the voice acting, which is a true rarity. Most of the time when big casts of actors get together for an animated film the acting is fine, but nowhere near a selling point. With Turbo it's good enough to listen to with your eyes closed. Giamatti is especially great as the manic snail brother and Samuel L. Jackson turns a smaller role into something more than just hearing Samuel L. Jackson's voice. Reynolds is fine, if not a little bland, as Turbo, but his eventual nemesis Guy Gagné is voiced with such wonderful pomp by Hader that it elevates his game as well.
Despite its oddly original concept, Turbo doesn't really push much new ground in terms of themes and that makes for a movie that's fun, and sometimes touching, but never as impactful as the truly great animated films. There's definitely some heart and soul here, especially thanks to the voice acting, but it's mostly fun and flash. We aren't heralding in the next Shrek here, but Dreamworks has crafted a movie that feels fresh and fun enough to keep kids and adults entertained.