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Review: Turbo (2013)

Turbo (2013)

Directed by: David Soren

Premise: An animated film about a snail (voice of Ryan Reynolds) who is able to travel at race car speed after a chemical accident. The snail is adopted by a human being who enters him in the Indy 500.

What Works: Turbo is a fun movie. This is a DreamWorks Animation production and this studio has had an inconsistent record with very good movies like How to Train Your Dragon offset by disappointments like Shrek the Third. Turbo ranks in the middle tier of DreamWorks Animation’s output. The better qualities of this movie are found in its earnestness. Turbo is generally nice and un-cynical. It tells a familiar story of an outcast who yearns for a better life and takes a shot at his dream. While that’s not the most original story design, it is reliable and the filmmakers do it well enough. There is nothing sarcastic about the movie and unlike the early output of DreamWorks Animation, Turbo is free of pop culture references that will be dated before the picture arrives in the home video market. Turbo owes a lot to Pixar’s Ratatouille in its look and overall story world and it is a worthy descendant of that movie. The quality of the animation varies but the visuals are periodically impressive, especially in the racing scenes.

What Doesn’t: The characters of Turbo aren’t quite as well animated as the story world. They don’t have the same level of detail or texture and the snails sometimes look cartoonish. The story is the weakest element of the movie. Turbo follows the Horatio Alger formula and it’s a very predictable narrative. Turbo is a character with no flaws and he encounters very few challenges. He does not have to work very hard to get what he wants; his speed is not a matter of effort but a blessing bestowed on him by accident. Throughout the story Turbo encounters few obstacles and they break his way with little or no resistance. This becomes a problem for the movie because it runs counter to the values of the Horatio Alger story. The narrative of a commoner who becomes a superstar is founded on a fundamental belief in the value of work. There is something pernicious about Turbo in that respect. The film praises its main character for believing in himself but never for actual accomplishments. The other narrative problem of Turbo is that the title character’s experiences do not change him. Turbo is essentially the same character at the end of the movie that he was at the beginning. The filmmakers introduce the nub of a character arc as Turbo meets his racing idol (voice of Bill Hader) and discovers that his hero is not a very nice guy. But this comes at the end of the movie and Turbo has no sacrifices to make in order to achieve his goal. Turbo may also give viewers pause in its use of racial stereotypes, both among the human characters and the snails. Blatant racial stereotypes are rare in Hollywood’s live action filmmaking, in part because viewers are generally sensitive to racial caricatures performed by human actors, but these stereotypes continue to manifest in animated pictures. Some of the characters of Turbo make plain use of these stereotypes, particularly the elder Asian woman voiced by Ken Jeong, the rapping snail voiced by Snoop Dogg, the sassy female snail voiced by Maya Rudolph, and especially the two Hispanic characters voiced by Michael Peña and Luis Guzmán who operate a taco shop and use the word “amigo” in every other sentence. The stereotypes are not intended maliciously but stereotyping is symptomatic of lazy writing and when they are taken alongside the movie’s basic narrative problems, it’s clear that Turbo’s screenplay would have benefited from an additional draft.

Bottom Line: Turbo is lazily written, as it crutches on clichés and stereotypes. It’s more of a kid’s picture than a family film but it’s not a bad movie and it is entertaining enough that children are likely to enjoy it.

Episode: #449 (July 28, 2013)