Turbo (2013)

Review first published by Film4.

Synopsis: For his feature debut, long-time animator David Soren directs this animated tale of a snail unwilling to fail.

Review: “Why is this confusing?” asks stay-at-home, literally spineless snail Chet (voiced inimitably by Paul Giamatti). “I am not a girl!”

Of course, identity confusion abounds in Turbo, the latest 3D animated eye feast from Dreamworks. Snails don’t really have names, let alone nicknames – ‘Turbo’ being the nickname of Chet’s spirited brother Theo (Ryan Reynolds). Snails do not normally watch television, or use tools, or understand human speech, or know how to spell, or, inspired by their favourite human motor-racing champion, dream of speed – and they certainly do not, like Theo, acquire powers of racecar-beating rapidity after being accidentally super-injected with nitrous oxide. Yet none of this matters – not only because Turbo is aimed at children, or because animation has traditionally been a safe haven for the pathetic fallacy, but also because Turbo is a film about transcending nature, going beyond limits, and being better than the best you can be.

In other words, this is a true underdog story, whose ‘crazy’ high-concept premise – snail enters, maybe even wins, the Indianapolis 500 – is repeated countless times by assorted characters (human and mollusc) in case anyone misses it, and also duplicated in the human story of Tito (Michael Peña), a taco seller who dares to dream big in the face of his own brother’s resignation to reality. “The world loves the underdogs out there, the dreamers,” declares Theo’s hero Guy Gagné (Bill Hader), before pointing out that in reality they seldom win. It is an odd moment when Turbo seems on the point of deconstructing its own wish-fulfilment fantasy, not to mention its conception of heroism. Corrupted by his own sell-out success, Gagné has in fact become a narcissistic villain – which might confuse some viewers about what the future holds for our underdog übersnail.

In A Nutshell: This flashy fantasia attempts to fuel-inject an American dream that is stuck in a recessionary slow lane.

Anton Bitel