Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Paul Giamatti, Michael Peña
Directed by: David Soren (debut)
Written by: David Soren (debut), Darren Lemke (“Shrek Forever After”) and Robert D. Siegel (“The Wrestler”)
On its outer shell, “Turbo” might just look like another cute animated film about an underdog character who proves to have the heart of a champion, but even that familiar storyline can have some surprises. It’s especially true when you make some interesting casting choices and hire a co-screenwriter like Robert D. Siegel (“The Wrestler”) to give the script a substantial shot of hedonism. Randy “The Ram” Robinson had it in “The Wrestler” as did Paul Aufiero in “Big Fan,” a dark comedy which Siegel also wrote. The same can be said about starry-eyed garden snail Theo (Ryan Reynolds), AKA Turbo, who would do anything possible to win the Indy 500. It’s a likeable narrative that, while not very inventive or plausible (even for an animated film), does have spurts of high-octane entertainment value.
It doesn’t really matter that Turbo is a snail and therefore lacks the actual speed or anthropological traits to enter the big race. “Turbo,” which feels like DreamWorks’ answer to the fable “The Tortoise and the Hare,” doesn’t worry itself with much logic and neither should viewers. When our little snail hero is somehow infused with nitrous oxide, he gains the super speed he needs to compete with the fastest cars in the world. Turbo’s brother, Chet (Paul Giamatti), isn’t too keen on these pipedreams, but with help from Tito (Michael Peña), the owner of a taco stand, and a group of wannabe racer snails lead by Whiplash (Samuel L. Jackson), Turbo is put on the fast track to get to Indianapolis and make a name for himself. Speaking of Jackson, you can’t go wrong when screenwriters choose to reference one of the most hilariously vulgar scenes from “Pulp Fiction” and use him to deliver the dialogue. Sure, the rows of eight year olds in the theater won’t blink an eye, but hidden gems like that are appreciated to balance out a lot of the slapstick for the kiddos.
From a technical and narrative perspective, Dreamworks Animation still isn’t at the levels of Pixar, but have fashioned a nice niche in the industry to create some well-made family films since coming on board in 1998 with “Antz.” Since then, they’ve had some major highs (“Kung Fu Panda,” “How to Train Your Dragon”) and a few lows (“Megamind,” “Bee Movie”), but have refused to take a back seat to their competition. If they want to catch up to the likes of Pixar, consistency is what is going to get them there. Just ask the tortoise.