The summer of 2013 generally produced a yawn-fest of giant robots, monsters, and oceans of digital wizardry, none of which could hold a candle to the simple story of a cartoon snail. If you haven’t caught it already, you and the kids still have a chance to be thoroughly engrossed in the tale of a tiny toon named Theo, in “Turbo.”
In the Garden
Theo the snail (voiced by Ryan Reynolds) heeds the call to adventure and leaves the garden and lawn he lives in. He wants to be … a race-car driver?! Yes! He, tiny garden snail, like in Sheryl Crow’s song from that other cartoon movie about racing, “Cars,” wants to “get real gone.”
The problem is that while Theo dreams of going 200 miles per hour, he’s got a top speed of about 0.8 inches per minute. Is that not sad? Up until this telling, he’s lived his life with a badly wounded heart because life is just unfair like that, and that is a very important lesson for the kids. The kids will also learn, like in that Rolling Stones song: “You can’t always get want you want, but if you try sometimes, you just might find, you get what you need.”
Deep down, Theo knows that he’s a member of the speedster tribe, whereas his brother Chet (Paul Giamatti) is very content to go to work every day at “The Plant” (it’s a tomato plant). Chet is a classic crab. A crab-who-destroys-dreams. Constantly pulling his daydreaming brother back into the crab bucket. No Chet’s not a crab. He’s a snail; both snails and crabs have shells, and … never mind.
But Theo breaks free of the tomato plant and suburban lawn and goes on a dangerous journey! Snatched by marauding crows, he falls off a thruway overpass, lands on a car’s speeding windshield, and ultimately, sort of like Jonah and the whale, he’s sucked down a teenage drag-racer’s nitro-burning Camaro’s supercharger—and enters the belly of the beast!
Instant death? No, we’re just getting started: in one of the movie’s fascinating sequences, the “camera” dives in, magnifying the goings-on in the microcosm of Theo’s physical transformation. The blue nitrous oxide, like some kind of magical high-energy matter, invades Theo’s subatomic particles, and BOOM! He’s suddenly got a supernormal ability—blazing speed.
He’s like the Flash now, snail version. But wait! There’s more! There are other supernormal abilities: His eyes light up like car headlights, and he’s got a built-in alarm, an ignition remote, and a radio. Theo just “got real gone.” Meet Turbo!
Tito Lopez (voiced by Michael Peña) is the co-owner of a Mexican restaurant in a small California backwater reminiscent of the culturally bypassed atoll in Radiator Springs, in “Cars.” Tito has a little side action going; he races snails. Tito discovers Turbo’s talent, envisions dollar signs, and enters Turbo in the Indianapolis 500.
Turbo’s pit crew is staffed by fellow speed-infatuated snails that sport amusing low-tech versions of his supernormal abilities. They’re voiced by, among others, Snoop Dogg, Maya Rudolph, and Samuel L. Jackson. It’s sort of a Greek chorus that’s dangerously close to a minstrel show, but really, who else but Samuel L. Jackson would you want to have voice a line like, “Don’t test me, crow!”
Speaking of crows, there’s a very funny running gag where crows continually pick off snail friends and acquaintances, leaving the snail community momentarily stunned, the punch line being their quick, fatalistic acceptance of life’s unavoidable, unfair, ongoing crow attacks.
As everyone knows by now, Ryan Reynolds is exceptionally funny. As the voice of Theo, making a crow-avoiding getaway under cover of a rancid, discarded Chinese-food carton, he philosophizes, “It’s like wearing a hat made of feet.”
There’s much creativity happening in this little film: The opening speedway shots give you the perspective we all wish we had of televised Indy 500 races—just how ridiculously fast those vehicles move, and their high-decibel din.
Like so many of the digital 3-D cartoon movies, another thing “Turbo” gets right is cozy imagery of suburban Americana. Lawnmowers, garden hoses, sprinklers, full moons, starry landscapes, and America’s romance for the cheesy-magical atmospheres that hover around traveling carnivals and tourist attractions like South of the Border.
“Turbo” contains many good lessons for kids, such as how, in order to be able to achieve the things one wants to achieve in life, one usually has to endure some hardship or danger, and learn to cooperate with others. Especially well conveyed is the joy of attaining one’s blistering-speed bliss. The snail’s-eye view of finally being able to burn up the track at 200+ mph is thrilling to the point of making you check your adult self: “Why am I getting this happy in a child’s cartoon about a oxymoronic fast snail?” Well, it’s because the unlocking of one’s true bliss is not child’s play—it’s for all ages.
Director: David Soren
Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Michael Peña, Samuel L. Jackson, Paul Giamatti, Snoop Dog, Maya Rudolph, Luis Guzmán, Bill Hader
MPAA Rating: PG
Running Time: 1 hour, 52 minutes
Release Date: July 17, 2013
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars