Is DreamWorks Turbo Worth the Hype?

Here we meet Theo (Ryan Reynolds) a comparatively small gastropod who dreams big.

turbo-movie%202013%20posterJames Shaw: To be honest, I never expected much from DreamWorks Turbo. The premise is simple: the story takes place in Van Nuys in the San Fernando Valley of California (although I suspect the suburbia was North Hills). Here we meet Theo (Ryan Reynolds) a comparatively small gastropod who dreams big. He wants to live life in the fast lane like his idol Indianapolis 500 racer Guy Gagné (Bill Hader).

But working at the plant (of the garden variety) daily is slowing him down while his unimaginative brother Chet (Paul Giamatti) is holding him back. Things take a turn for the better when an accident makes Theo realize he’s halfway to his goal. But will a chance meeting with dreaming taco stand co-owner Tito (Michael Peña) help him finish his journey?

Ed Sum: I do not know, but in the teaser trailer, I can not help but liken this snail’s newfound abilities to that of some effects shot used in the Spider-Man movies. To see him affected in a microcellular level made me think of him maybe turning superhero. I am not surprised that the adage of with great power comes great responsibility gets played up in this film.

J: I wondered after Theo became the insect world’s version of the Flash, who is there left to race against? I thought Nascar. I was wrong…but close.

E: There’s actually competing against the speedster himself, but that is not going to happen. DreamWorks does have a good “track” record of putting out entertaining hits. I thought this film would belong on my list of movies to miss seeing, but I had to see this movie before I could believe in the impossible. Even before James and I went to the theatre, he admitted that the concept was ludicrous and it was not worth seeing. I wanted to see some light-hearted animated product and dragged him along. At least in that department, this film delivers.

After a slow beginning of introducing the characters, the tale did pick up speed after Theo met the motley crew of fellow racing snails—Whiplash (Samuel L. Jackson), Smoove Move (Snoop Dogg), Burn (Maya Rudolph), Skidmark (Ben Schwartz), and White Shadow (Michael Bell) who shows him how to get the right stuff. I thought these characters were very stereotyped. These were very boyz ‘n the hood type characters.

J: Although Whiplash’s crew were just side characters, nothing is unintentionally done with DreamWorks titles. Or should I say nothing that becomes a success slips through their fingers. Remember Penguins of Madagascar, the spin-off from Madagascar?

E: Yes, I love those penguins. They are hilarious. But their vaudeville-style comedy holds no candle to the more urban bromance the snails seem to have. The gang of racing snails seem to accept Theo too fast. Not a lot of conflict happened in the build-up of accepting him as one of their own. They just mess with him and then say, “You’re cool. But there’s still a lot to learn.” So where’s the education? None. All of that went by without a word of revealing what the world of racing is like. Most of that gets revealed in the human world!

J: Well, without Whiplash and his crew, this film would’ve been bland and colourless. Sure we had conflict between Theo and his brother Chet but I couldn’t be entertained by that alone. I’m going to say look for a breakaway direct-to-DVD product featuring just these characters.

E: James, they were entertaining but they are nowhere close to what some merry penguins can do. I mean, they don’t have hands, much less flappers. There’s only so much emotion or motion any animator can do with a snail.

Also, you forget that juxtaposition that was happening with Theo and his more realistic brother, Angelo (Luis Guzmán), I found the story to be more believable. Even Theo’s own brother, Chet looked like a mirror of the human life and drama going on.

J: I guess Theo and Chet, and Tito and Angelo were an attempt to show the audience that every family, no matter how small or different, have the same problems. In the end they still love each other. In any other case I might’ve gagged and said the mirror drama was unneeded and too heavy-handed. But here it works and it didn’t feel forced.

Tito’s own dream was just as strong as Theo’s but Tito needed guidance to start him on the right path.

E: As Theo’s credo went, “No dream is too big, and no dreamer too small.” Some of the dialogue was smart, and it was not drilling a messages into the audience’s head. But there was more to the human drama going on than with the snails. There were more at stake with losing a business than with a snail trying to make it to the big leagues. I do like Gagné. He’s the epitome of everything in the human spirit that is naturally competitive.

While this product is not on par with DreamWorks larger-than-life works like Shrek or Monsters vs Aliens, it belongs to a niche market. Normally, I’m not fond of racing films, especially Days of Thunder. They tend to be too formulaic. I never cared much for the Cars franchise either. I thought it was Disney forcing PIXAR to make a film to please the patrons who have a need for speed. In my opinion, slow and steady, wins the race.

Out of all the CGI films I’ve seen to date, the animation was good and the 3D was well done. I felt like I was in the action in all the race track scenes. But anywhere else, there was nothing special to the animated magic. I think this movie will be more like a footnote in animation history.

J: I would to disagree with you on this one. It’s more than a footnote. The acting was pleasing in parts. Ryan Reynolds seemed to have a voice cut out for animated productions. But I can’t forget Samuel L. Jackson, Bill Hader, Michael Peña and Luis Guzmán who stood out. I couldn’t stand Luis Guzmán’s grating sidekick schtick in Journey 2: The Mysterious Island but here he was perfect as the caring older brother with a natural talent for making great tacos. But the acting that gave me the most laughs was Ken Jeong’s role as Kim Ly. I seem to compare his role to Amy Hill as Mrs. Kwan in Dr. Suess’ the Cat in the Hat.

Turbo wasn’t as bad as I expected but it can’t compare to DreamWorks’ previous productions. One hopes the critical reviews doesn’t cause DreamWorks to hide in their shell.

Author: James Robert Shaw

Making a comeback.

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