Turbo (2013) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

Turbo (2013)

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Gotta go fastAndrew LIKE BannerAmerican animated films have hit a nadir over the last few years.  Much like the rebirth and gradual descent of traditional cel animation in the late '80s, the computer generated New Wave hit its peak a few years ago with Up and Kung Fu Panda.  Pixar has become steadily enamored with itself, churning out bad sequels, prequels, and spin-offs with none of the originality that they afforded offbeat films like Ratatouille.  While Dreamworks moved away from the song and dance pop culture riff-fests of the early '00s to begin producing generally respectable and sometimes great work.

Turbo does not signal an end to the nadir, but also is not a sign that it's time to start despairing about the state of studio animation just yet.  It's a charming story built from a premise that could have been Saturday morning filler material.  Instead, it uses a plethora of charming actors, a warm and diverse crew of genuinely affectionate characters, and a beautiful sense of scope and speed to bring the little snails dreams to life.  It's a nice reminder that not every film has to strain to have some grand life affirming message.  Sometimes just finding characters struggling to be good, no matter how silly, is a decent way to go.

I admit, though, that Turbo does take a bit of time to rev up.  The first act about a snail who dreams of going fast while sticking himself to a TV screen with racers drags on way too much. It doesn't help that little Turbo is voiced by Ryan Reynolds, an actor who can be great, but dials his performance to "reasonably pleasant" and barely deviates from there.  The bland setting and hero don't signal a great time, but when the world building begins the fun really starts to take off.

Fast and Furious may not get a direct reference, but the influence is there.

Fast and Furious may not get a direct reference, but the influence is there.

The world of Turbo has an undercurrent of morbidity that fuels some great dry humor.  The snails move at an animated pace befitting their real-life counterparts, and their measured way of talking and emoting is a delightful fit.  The best example is a running joke regarding the birds that sometimes snatch the little ones from their job harvesting tomatoes.  There's an Eeyore-like resignation to the slow line readings like, "Well...there goes Jerry," in the middle of a safety seminar.

This dry, morbid tone ends up salvaging the first act of the film, and sets a nice baseline for the world that Turbo is used to.  I also love how this setting gets its own bit of characterization in Turbo's brother Chet (Paul Giamatti).  Chet's design is superb, slightly larger and darker in color than all the other snails, with just the right level of resignation and content in his eyes.  Giamatti delivers the best vocal performance with Chet, adding a great touch of humor to other bleak lines asking Turbo to accept the miserable reality of his existence.

Our introduction to this universe also highlights the great pacing of Turbo.  As soon as we get used to the scale of this world the next phase is gradually inserted with Turbo's wonderfully overblown Blue Eagles-styled oooh-rah American fantasies.  I like that these moments don't dominate the film, but also show that director David Soren won't shy away from the freedom animation allows.  So when Turbo gains superpowers, in an amusing homage to the Fast and Furious franchise, the transition is handled very smoothly.

Turbo does a great job of capturing the scale of the little guy's efforts.

Turbo does a great job of capturing the scale of the little guy's efforts.

For the rest of the film Turbo balances its pleasant hero against reasonable opposition and finds wonderful allies.  I say opposition versus villains because they represent whatever reality this world could be pushing for where it would be odd for a snail to enter the Indy 500.  But Turbo's new human allies are the real treat, a multi-ethnic group of restaurant owners and mechanics that have a lot of love and respect for each other.  This is also where Soren's appreciation of past animation comes in, as Tito's (a wonderfully sweet Michael Pena) enthusiasm for the little snail elicits incredulous responses from people that are inspired by Chuck Jones' seminal One Froggy EveningTurbo takes the fantasy a bit more seriously, but I still enjoyed many of the hilariously suspicious faces when Tito is trying to convince people of the snail's speed.

The animation continues to be stellar throughout the rest of the film.  I loved the way the organic hues and slow pacing of the natural world contrasted with the gravel and neon of Turbo's new superstardom.  Some of the other snail friends he makes get a bit annoying, especially the one so clearly inspired by Samuel L. Jackson's previous roles that Turbo would have been in trouble if they could not cast him.  It's an interesting contrast to the more subtle homage from earlier, letting a bit too much anger and Tarantino zippiness into a film that had been largely pleasant to that point.

But those are small complaints for a film far better than I was expecting.  Turbo's not one of the greats, but it's got a good heart, a great sense of humor, and a charming evolution of world building.  It's light, but a swell way to brighten up the day.

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Tail - TurboTurbo (2013)

Directed by David Soren.
Screenplay written by Soren, Robert Siegel, and Darren Lemke.
Starring Ryan Reynolds and Paul Giamatti.

Posted by Andrew

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