DreamWorks Animation have struggled in recent years. After reaping the rewards with successes such as Kung Fu Panda, How To Train Your Dragon and Shrek, the studio, who are often unfairly compared to Pixar, have lost their way somewhat. Their latest feature Turbo, a sort of Fast & Furious for kids, does nothing to buck that continuing trend, and marks what’s possibly the biggest disappointment for the studio. It’s not that it’s bad per se, more that there’s absolutely nothing here to set it apart from similar animated tales.
Tired of methodically harvesting tomatoes day-after-day, Theo (Ryan Reynolds), a garden snail with enormous dreams, envisages a day where he’s able to compete in the Indy 500. There’s one problem though: He’s not fast enough. That soon changes, however, when he finds himself caught up in a freak drag racing accident and his DNA is mixed with nitrous oxide, leaving him with super-fast speed and other car-like abilities. It’s only when his path crosses with ambitious snail-loving taco promoter Tito (Michael Peña), though, that his wildest dreams come true.
Positioned as the ultimate underdog story (snails are possibly the smallest animals on Earth, therefore never likely to compete in any kind of race, let alone the Indy 500), Turbo is ultimately flat, sluggish and uninspired. The narrative is as run-of-the-mill as they come, with Theo facing no obstacles whatsoever on his path to becoming the champion he’s always dreamt of being. It’s as if the screenplay, which is credited to three screenwriters nonetheless, is trying desperately hard to be as inoffensive as possible.
This means that there’s very little for audiences to invest in. Theo himself isn’t well defined at all, and Reynolds offers nothing exceptional through his voice work to distinguish the character in any way. In fact, the film coasts along so lackadaisically that it becomes instantly forgettable, rather than sweetly modest, like it can only be assumed was its intent. It’s only when the film reaches its third act that things spark up a little (the racing sequences are nicely handled by director David Soren). But by this point it’s well beyond the point of redemption.
Its underlying message about no dreamer being too small and no dream being too big is also corrupted time and time again by the fact that, in order to achieve his dreams, Theo needs to become superhuman – something that’s not physically possible in the real world. It’s excusable in the sense that the films target audience of kids looking for a slice half term animation are unlikely to pay any attention whatsoever, yet only goes to accentuate just how muted and timid the whole thing is.
Turbo is saved mildly from the pleasing and colourful animation and Henry Jackman’s sufficing score. The negatives outweigh the positives vastly, however, and it’s quite clear as to why it made such a paltry total sum at the US box office. No matter how small the underdog, if the narratives as banal as this, then no one is going to take much notice. For a film appointed the promising title of Turbo, there’s not much bang for the buck here, nor anything to condone such an inaccuracy.