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It’s Cliche, Predicable, Formulaic and Quite Enjoyable

Cover Despite a rash of previews that looked promising, I was slow to get around to Turbo; no pun intended. From the looks of it, it appeared to be a plug & play kids film package- lowly snail, known for lack of speed, ridiculous dream of being one of the fastest creatures on earth, laughed at by all, in a mishap becomes fast, series of events lead to his becoming a global hero thanks to his speed. And guess what? That’s exactly what it is from start to finish. But even going in with that mindset, coming away feeling fulfilled by the experience is completely possible thanks to the attention to detail that only DreamWorks brings to the table in these situations.

Turbo is a 2013 American 3D computer-animated comedy sports film produced by DreamWorks Animation and distributed by 20th Century Fox. It wears a PG rating and comes in at a run-time of 96-minutes.
What’s really interesting is how the film came to be. As most anyone on the planet is fully aware, computer generated (CG) feature films are BIG business. Successful films often go on to rake in hundreds of millions in their theatrical runs and some companies (some that start with D for example) are masterful at merchandising the snot out of these films; lunch boxes, action figures, Halloween costumes, bed sheets and on and on. In short, a winner in this industry means unimaginable profits. By and large DreamWorks brings some pretty interesting concepts to the genre and has struck gold time and again with franchises like Shrek, Kung-Fu Panda, How to Train Your Dragon and so on. Even still, they occasionally find themselves in a slump for fresh concepts.

Enter David Soren, a lowly DreamWorks employee and one of dozens who were invited to partake in a company competition to submit a single-page pitch for the next big CG film franchise. He combined The Fast and the Furious with snails and ended up being selected as the winner. Though, and pardon the endless pun potential here, the idea crawled along at a snail’s pace for roughly 5-years before DreamWorks finally decided it was time to take the project seriously. Soren actually got to make his directorial debut on the piece and well, here we are. Having been head of story to such pieces as Shark Tale prior, it’s safe to suggest this one could have went either way.

There are a lot of parallels between Soren and the titular character, come to think of it, particularly the idea of a low man with a big dream. However while the character goes on to win big in the end, the film hasn’t been a commercial success. Produced on a budget of roughly $127-mil (plus $175-million in marketing) Turbo has since gone on to rake in close to $300-million. One doesn’t need to own stock in DreamWorks to realize that’s the kind of return shareholders don’t like to see. In fact the studio took a $13.5 million write-down on the film; This marked the second film in two years that DreamWorks Animation has lost money on after Rise of the Guardians.

As for potential sequels, no official announcement yet but DreamWorks does have a very rich history of turning successful films into successful franchises after all. Additionally a 2D animated series has spawned from the film on Netflix known as Turbo: FAST.

Anyway, all of this, while riveting to be sure, really doesn’t tell you anything about whether or not you might like the film itself, allow me to get back on track here. That could be another pun too but I digress.

Turbo tells of a a speed-obsessed garden snail with dreams of becoming an Indycar racer who, by the magic of an unfeasible accident, becomes saturated with nitrous-oxide and thus extremely fast (and not just fast-for-a-snail but fast period; 226mph kinda fast). From there it’s a meteoric rise from racing against other snails right to the big leagues: participation in the Indy 500. Never mind such nuances as it would probably be more believable for him to enter a biological-being race, like the Boston Marathon rather than one designed for machines; realism was clearly not the mandate on this one.

What ensues, really, is a series of enjoyable character interactions along the way. This is the real meat and potatoes of the film. DreamWorks is nothing if not very cast savvy and choices like Ryan Reynolds as Turbo, Luis Guzmán as a taco slinging Latino, Samuel L Jackson as the roughest snail this side of the tracks and Snoop Dogg as the burned out, fuzzy pink dice sporting mollusk Smoove Move make this reality very clear.
The story breaks no new ground and in fact, can probably be assembled using pieces and bits of other animated films before it like Antz, Cars and Disco Worms but again, what this one lacks in originality, it actually makes up for with some charming characters and genuine humor that will appeal to viewers of all ages.

DreamWorks’ greatest strength, perhaps, is their ability to integrate perfect character archetypes to keep the pacing razor sharp throughout the story-arc and this film is no exception. Turbo may lack Pixar’s cleverness and Disney’s infallible marketing schemes but it does offer a solid hour-and-a-half’s worth of animated entertainment loaded with visuals that are oft downright stunning. If that isn’t reason enough, the cast alone is worth the investment.