"Your trash talk is needlessly complicated."
Let's face facts, Pixar does not make Pixar movies anymore. I know I've harped on this a lot in my reviews recently, but the fact of the matter is, they haven't focused any of their time or attention on creating new, original works and it's only been to their own detriment. Dreamworks, on the other hand, since 2008's Kung Fu Panda, has been on a bit of a roll and their latest effort, Turbo, is potentially their best film yet, but not for any of the reasons you may be thinking. Read on to find out why...
Theo (Ryan Reynolds) is a garden snail that dreams of life in the fast lane. His days are spent working with his brother Chet (Paul Giamatti) at "the plant" (a tomato garden), but his nights are consumed with dreams of racing in the Indianapolis 500. After causing an accident which partially destroys the plant, Theo mopes his way out to the 101 Freeway, and through a convoluted series of events, ends up in the nitrous oxide tank of a supercharged car. His time in the tank provides him with super speed, and a number of other "super powers" that make him a one of a kind snail.
Theo & Chet are captured by jovial taco chef Tito (Michael Pena) & his brother Angelo (Luis Guzman) and entered into the underground world of snail racing. When Theo shows off his skills to the other snails, he re-dubs himself Turbo, and becomes determined to enter the Indy 500 for himself. Thankfully Tito is a big dreamer as well, and recognizes the snail's dreams and abilities, and ropes everyone around him into pursuing their dreams. Turbo's path also puts him on a collision course with both destiny and his racing idol Guy Gagne (Bill Hader), that could potentially end in disaster for the small snail with big dreams.
The first thing you're going to notice about Turbo is that it's plot is incredibly similar to Pixar's 2007 masterpiece Ratatouille. In fact, on the way out of the theater, my oldest daughter Clementine remarked that they're "basically the same movie." And while that is true, it doesn't work to the film's detriment. The formula is tried and true (underdog with big dreams gets their shot to compete in the big show thanks to a down on his luck dreamer), but it works and why try and fix what's not broken? I wouldn't go so far as to say the film rips off Ratatouille (though Tito referring to Turbo as "little amigo" comes dangerously close), but Turbo's heart is in the right place.
There are tons of little touches that make the film such a delight for kids and adults. The kids will love the antics of the other snails and the humor that arises from the sibling rivalry between Chet & Theo and the adults will love the little touches like Turbo's checkered flags on his shell being made out of scraps of a crossword puzzle. The film's animation style has photorealistic touches like wonderfully rendered birds & race cars, but it maintains a safe, colorful style that keeps things safe for kids of all ages.
The voice cast is fantastic, all the way across the board. Reynolds is an actor that runs hot and cold with me, but he's in top form here and gives Turbo an undying optimism that makes him so easy to root for. Giamatti is likewise operating in his wheelhouse as a curmudgeon, and his character arc is all the better because he's such a talented voice actor. The assorted snails, particularly those voiced by Samuel L. Jackson, Maya Rudolph & Snoop Dogg are equally enjoyable, and the kids will just delight in their rapport with one another, and the humans, particularly those voiced by Pena, Guzman, Hader, and Richard Jenkins will give the adults in the audience some humor they will love as well.
My one, glaring issue with the film is the small Asian female character that the filmmakers decided needed to be voiced by Ken Jeong. Jeong is an actor whose schtick has worn away to nothing with me, and I can barely tolerate his appearance in films these days. Even Judd Apatow, the guy who "discovered" him has more or less purged his films of Jeong. His work with MIchael Bay has only amped up these ridiculous caricatures he insists on bringing to every film, and having him voice a female character in this film was, perhaps, the final insult for me. I don't mean to harp on this since most of the kids going to see this film will care less, but filmmakers really need to focus their efforts on finding someone else or, better yet, multiple someones to take some of these roles from him.
I don't want that to tarnish the overall film though, as Turbo is an incredibly winning, adorable and ultimately heartwarming film that everyone will love. It doesn't break any new ground, but it sticks firmly to familiar beats that you will delight in seeing played out again, and I defy you not to get pumped up when "Eye of the Tiger" kicks in late in the third act.
Turbo is the kind of film that everyone can enjoy equally and that's so rare in children's entertainment these days. It's a fantastic film, and even if you don't have children, I defy you not to be taken by it, and I can almost guarantee it will be nominated for, if not win, the Best Animated Feature Oscar come Academy Awards time. Do yourself a favor, stop reading, and go see Turbo.
GO Rating: 4/5
[Photos via BoxOfficeMojo]