Perhaps I’m getting cynical as I age, but I think there is a mechanized animated-family-movie-plot-generator hidden somewhere in the bowels of Hollywood (my money is on Jeffrey Katzenberg’s subbasement).
If you don’t want to try very hard but still want to make a pant-load of money you just pay it a visit and it will crank out some top-shelf mediocrity.
The result centers on some kind of cute animal, common household object, or vehicle that is easy to anthropomorphize; but the important part is that it begins the film as very normal (possession of a big dream or unknown talent is also important).
It will then conjure up some big event (typically supernatural, but feel free to change it up) that knocks our little hero out of his or her comfort zone. Then it throws in a little adventure, a wacky crew of like-minded individuals to assure our hero he is on the right track and all you have to do is find some actors willing to be handsomely paid for a few days’ work and you’ve got yourself a movie.
The movie “Turbo” dutifully follows this blueprint and therefore never strives to be anything more than satisfactory, middle-of-the-road, family entertainment.
Turbo (voiced by Ryan Reynolds, who is more than happy to be working in any kind of movie at this point) is a garden snail who dreams of speed.
His brother Chet (Paul Giamatti, the best thing about this movie) wants Turbo to accept his limitations. Fed up with a life of tomato collecting, Turbo ventures off towards the highway where he is inadvertently sucked into the engine of a street racer ingests some nitrous oxide, and becomes chemically blessed with super-speed (but stay off the PED’s kids!).
Turbo is then by chance found by Tito (Michael Pena), a taco salesman with big dreams of his own, who also dabbles in snail racing, which I guess is a thing? He puts Turbo in a race where he literally blows away the competition.
Inspired by Turbo, Tito convinces his fellow, downtrodden strip-mall proprietors Bobby (Richard Jenkins!?), Kim-Ly (Ken Jeong) and Paz (Michelle Rodriguez) to sponsor Turbo in the Indianapolis 500 with the hopes of turning their fortunes around.
There is a fine line between charmingly fanciful and patently ridiculous and for some reason a snail, even one equipped with super-speed, racing in the Indy 500 ventures just beyond the realm of suspension of disbelief.
It also seems a little overly marketable as Turbo’s fellow, normal-speed racing snails with names like Whiplash (Samuel L. Jackson), Burn (Maya Rudolph), Smoove Move (Snoop Dogg), Skid Mark (Ben Schwarz) and White Shadow (Mike Bell) all seem prepackaged for Happy Meals.
Even some quality work by Bill Hader as overly-confident French-Canadian racecar driver Guy Gagne winds up feeling all-too-familiar.
There’s nothing offensively bad about “Turbo” and it is perfectly adequate if you looking for a solid 90 minutes of child distraction. But it a marketplace that features the notably superior “Monsters University” and “Despicable Me 2” why should you settle for second rate when it comes to your entertainment dollar?
As the great Ricky Bobby once said, “If you’re not first, you’re last” and when it comes to animated movies of 2013, “Turbo” is running a distant third.
“Turbo” is rated PG for some mild action and thematic elements.