If you look hard enough, there are lessons and morals in most animated kids movies: Brave shows children that it’s a good idea to listen to your parents, Meet the Robinsons educates on the value of friendship (and accepting your whack-a-doo family), and Megamind shows us all how important it is to have an invisible car nearby when you’re fighting a bad guy.
But just how important are these life lessons in kids movies? Surely children should be learning from their parents and not from entertainment, right? So when a movie has a particularly unsavory message, how big a deal is it?
Case in point… Turbo, the seemingly heart-warming and uplifting tale of a snail who wants to not only go through life at a pace faster than a slime-trailed crawl but actually wants to race in the Indianapolis 500.
And though it’s punctuated with some pretty fun, edge-of-your-seat race sequences, Turbo ends up feeling just a little too silly to be anything more than just a pleasant diversion. That is– assuming the kids in the crowd are too young to take the real message of the movie to heart. But we’ll come back to that.
We begin in a suburban garden, where Theo (voiced by Ryan Reynolds) lives out his days with a walk (yes, that’s the animal collective) of snails, all of whom are completely content to harvest tomatoes and otherwise just ooze around in the dirt.
For some reason (we’re never told why) Theo dreams of going fast. It’s as if Turbo‘s creative team sat around a table and said, “We need a kids movie with fast cars, but that’s already been done, so how can we make it different? What if we took the slowest thing in the world and made it dream of going fast? Bingo!”
No doubt there was a sane, practical person in the room explaining it’s kinda ridiculous for a snail to go fast… which is obviously how Theo’s older brother Chet (Paul Giamatti) came to life. As the “get your head out of the clouds” voice of reason, he spends the better part of the movie fighting his baby bro’s dreams with everything he has.
Frustrated, Theo wanders off one night (veeerrry slowly) and eventually finds himself sucked into the engine of a hot rod at a drag race. When he gets a healthy dose of nitrous oxide, slow-poke Theo suddenly has everything he needs to make it in the world of racing… well, except for transportation, a pit crew, and the entry fee.
Fortunately, those all fall into his lap, too, when he stumbles on a taco hut in Van Nuys, where the underground world of snail racing is apparently very much a thing. There he meets (human) brothers Tito (Michael Pena) and Angelo (Luis Guzman), along with a rout (also acceptable as an animal collective for snails) of escargotian compadres, including Whiplash (Samuel L. Jackson), Smoove Move (Snoop Dogg), and Burn (Maya Rudolph).
Eventually the gang winds up in Indy for the big race, where Turbo faces off against the super-slick (…and human…in a car) Guy Gagne (Bill Hader).
The voice cast does some nice work, with Giamatti and Ken Jeong (as an old lady who runs a local nail salon) leading the way. And though the animation feels somewhat amateur-ish at times, there are plenty of dazzling, redemptive moments, including the hectic mayhem of the big race.
Director David Soren is making his feature debut after directing the 2009 Madagascar Christmas short, and he certainly proves that he can keep an audience (particularly those of the 4-8 year old set) entertained. There’s nothing animation-wise in Turbo that elevates it to the level of, say, The Croods, Epic, or Despicable Me 2 (the three best animated films of 2013 so far), but that’s not to say it fails by any stretch.
The script by Soren, Darren Lemke (Shrek Forever After), and Robert D. Seigel (the former Editor in Chief of The Onion) has plenty of silly, juvenile moments, many of which actually elicit a laugh along the way. But the message of the film is more of a problem… which brings us back to the original question: How big a deal is it?
We can all agree that the whole idea of following your dreams is noble and worthwhile… but what about when you achieve them only by taking a swig of magic juice? There’s not a single moment in Turbo where our hero actually trains, practices, or makes his dreams happen through hard work and/or dedication. If you care, or if your children have heard of Lance Armstrong or Barry Bonds, you may want to engage in a little pre-show chit-chat.
If not, well– man, that snail goes really fast. Cool.