Let's say I am a top executive in a big animation studio. One day, some guys come into my office and make a pitch about a snail that gets infused with nitrous oxide and wants to compete in the Indianapolis 500. What I would do next is tell them about the ills of using illegal drugs and point them toward the nearest rehab center.
The nitrous oxide-infused snail is basically the plot of Turbo, and that's why I went to the sponsored block screening of Chevrolet Philippines last weekend with a bit of trepidation. Nothing in the trailer really appealed to me. And I still believe Pixar is the only American animation studio that still makes magic. But, I figured, it's a free screening and there are plenty of worse things to do on a weekend.
Turbo turned out to be a genuine surprise. An entertaining movie amid overhyped and over-marketed Hollywood extravaganzas (*cough* Man Of Steel *cough*). Yes, the plot is still a snail that watches VHS reruns of Indy 500 races and wants to race there himself. The protagonist, Theo, voiced by Ryan Reynolds, has big round snail eyes that glaze over when his racing hero Guy Gagne, voiced by Bill Hader, says on the TV screen: "No dream is too big, and no dreamer is too small."
On the surface, Turbo seems like a pastiche of A Bug's Life, Ratatouille and Cars; in other words, a mix of Pixar's mid-level offerings (as opposed to its "greats" like Wall-E and the Toy Story movies, although I did love Cars). But the film just works. Theo, who renames himself Turbo, isn't a particularly cute rendering. On a certain level, his desire to compete in a real human race does seem silly. Yet in the same way he predictably shows his doubters that he can live his dream, the movie shows that real talent was put into writing and animating it.
While it doesn't display the love for cars that John Lasseter of Pixar showed in Cars (okay, that would be the last Pixar reference), the scenes involving racing cars and automobiles looked convincing and entertaining enough. Even that crucial scene where Theo/Turbo was sucked into a Chevrolet Camaro's turbo intake and infused with nitrous oxide, was done well, even though that camera-zooming-into-the-engine angle was done to death by the very first The Fast & The Furious movie. Or maybe it's because that was so long ago, and the F&F franchise has grown into something else now so I don't mind seeing the same perspective again.
A voice cast literally makes or breaks an animated movie. And the cast of Turbo is one of its greatest strengths. Ryan Reynolds isn't as annoying as he can be, and he gave justice to the role of a snail that wants to race. Paul Giamatti as Chet, Turbo's older brother, lends his character believability--not an easy task when Chet has to transition from being the doubter who cares, to the supporter. Many actors on-screen have failed this kind of role.
Then there's Samuel L. Jackson as one of the other snails in Turbo's group. From the moment he opens his tiny animal mouth, you know it's the unforgettable badass voice from Pulp Fiction. He steals a few scenes by virtue of his macho timbre and delivery. Michael Peña and Luis Guzman might not be household names, but their portrayal of brothers who operate a taco truck is even a little heart-warming. Peña plays Tito, another dreamer who sees Turbo's fast talent and wants to showcase it to market their taco business. Similar to the Turbo/Chet duality, Guzman plays Angelo, the pragmatic older brother who sincerely loves what he does, which is making tacos.
In the end, Turbo is a film that made me laugh and want to see what happens to the characters. That's all I ever want in a movie. So, if you run out of seats for The Wolverine this weekend (avoid Eastwood Cinemas), give this little guy a chance to entertain you.