Turbo is Snail Pace Race meets IndyCar. If you can get over the fact that the concept behind this film is completely preposterous and also the fact that it’s a blatant rip off of Ratatouille, then you’ll like it…for the most part.
Turbo tells the story of a little garden snail named Theo, who dreams of racing in the big leagues: the Indy 500. The problem is that he’s, well, a snail and a slow one at that. But after a freak accident causes him to fall into a car’s engine, he gets pumped up and supercharged with NOS and Theo (who’s renamed himself Turbo) delightfully discovers that he’s become the world’s fastest snail. He ends up getting captured by a human named Tito, who soon witnesses Turbo’s incredible racing skills, and together they set off to enter Turbo in the Indianapolis 500.
The marketing for Turbo was a real yawn and turn-off for me. As a result, I hadn’t seen many commercials and didn’t realize there were even human characters in the film, let alone how big their roles were, especially Tito’s. I think the human characters stole the show compared to the snails’. Tito and Angelo are the owners of Dos Bro Tacos, a struggling taco stand and food truck. The brothers mirror Turbo and his brother Chet: Tito is a dreamer like Turbo and Angelo is a cynical realist like Chet. These two, and their awesome taco foodtruck, were my favorite parts of the film.
The other human characters, the owners of the different shops in the strip mall Starlight Plaza, also are fantastic. Some complain that a few of them are stereotypical and this criticism is mostly directed at the crusty Asian nail salon owner Kim-Ly (who resembles and even somewhat sounds like Edna Mode from The Incredibles). Personally, I thought she was fine and didn’t take offense to her character because the film is set in California, which is a melting pot of different cultures and ethnicities. We’re not in Malibu, we’re in downtown LA, so it makes sense that we get characters from a wide variety of backgrounds appear in the film. On the flip side, Tito and Angelo are portrayed in a very positive light—it was refreshing to see Latino men as featured leads in an animated film. Tito is hilarious, fun and one of the best animated characters of the year.
Oh yeah, there are other snails too. I almost forget to mention them because they are nearly inconsequential to the plot. Turbo meets this group of hardcore racing snails at the Starlight Plaza and, except for a filler scene where they race each other on telephone lines (right…), they are left in the dust despite their big-name voice talent. DreamWorks most likely included these characters so that its spin-off TV show Turbo: F.A.S.T. would have legs with the kiddos because they don’t add much to the plot.
For racing fans, this movie covers a lot of bases: drag racing, Indy racing, heck, even snail racing! I really enjoyed seeing the different facets of racing that were explored (although in some cases briefly).
The obvious comparison people will make is: “Is this a knock-off of Cars?” The answer is no. The only similarities to Cars is the racing narrative and the rundown Starlight Plaza, which is desperately in need of a revival (much like Cars’ Radiator Springs). It’s much more Ratatouille, than Cars.
Speaking of, this movie really does owe a lot to Pixar’s Ratatouille. DreamWorks has never been shy about knocking off Pixar’s films (see: Antz, Shark Tale, Madagascar) and Turbo is no exception. The moral of this movie is akin to “anyone can cook”, but in this case it is more or less “anyone can race.” To make the comparison worse, Turbo even has a French racing idol name Guy Gagne, who appears to Turbo in one of his hallucinations. Gy pops and floats around the screen, much like Ratatouille’s Chef Gusteau. Turbo even has a skeptical, unsupportive brother just like Emile. Actually, the more I sit here, the more I realize the similarities and the more upset I get.
Visually, I did enjoy this film mostly because it was colorful, neon light-filled kiddie fair. The animation didn’t seem anything out of the ordinary; it was pretty enough. The animation, color palette and character design are cartoony and bright, which matches the silliness, humor and utter ridiculous of the story. The 3D was worthless despite me having 3D glasses on my head the entire time.
Turbo’s music consists of a very generic compilation of trite pump-up and hip-hop songs (see “Eye of the Tiger”, “Jump Around” and “Drop It Like It’s Hot.”). That being said, I liked their inclusion; a formulaic soundtrack to match a very formulaic film. There was one particular song that got big laughs called “That Snail is Fast”, which is an auto-tuned version of a viral video of Turbo racing. It’s a funny moment in the film that I enjoyed for its pop culture reference (although I’m sure upon a rewatch in 5 years, I’ll be groaning). I can’t comment much on Henry Jackman’s score, however, since I didn’t really pay particular attention to it.
As someone who grew up playing the obscure board game, Snail Pace Race, I enjoyed the racing snail concept and this movie. The plot speeds along to a very expected ending, but still drifts for a few deeper character development moments here and then. Turbo surprised me because I really went in expecting to roll my eyes the entire time and hate this movie, but surprisingly, I had a great time in the theatre.
If you had written off Turbo, I’d say give it a chance and go in knowing that it’s not going to be the best animated film you’ve seen. Turbo is funny, enjoyable, and unexpectedly decent.