July 18, 2013



TURBO:  Watch It At Home – Nothing Supercharged About the Script

If the new DreamWorks Animation release TURBO proves anything, it’s that even for the competition, there’s a special mystique about the films of Pixar.  (Until recently, anyway.)  Turbo painstakingly combines Ratatouille with the original Cars like the killer on The Bridge attaching American and Mexican corpses, and the result has more charm but, in the end, a similar lifelessness.

Like Remy in Ratatouille, Theo (voiced by Ryan Reynolds) has a dream impossible for his species:  he wants to drive like a Indianapolis 500 race-car driver–in fact, like Lightning McQueen in Cars.  Unfortunately, Theo is a snail.  And although he insists on being called “Turbo,” and he watches races avidly on television, his overprotective, safety-conscious brother Chet (Paul Giamatti) and the rest of the garden snails are always there to remind him that he can only go so fast.  Unless…

And this is where an imitator like Turbo differs from the genius of classic Pixar.  While in Ratatouille, Remy figured out an ingenious way for a rat to control a haute cuisine kitchen, allowing us to enjoy the character’s inspiration (and the movie’s), Turbo’s breakthrough comes about through mere accident.  He’s sucked into the grille of a Fast & Furious type muscle car, and the nitrous oxide somehow infects his heart so that he essentially becomes a car himself, not just able to run over 200 miles per hour, but with headlights, a working radio and other accessories (although the movie soon dumps almost all of those except the speed).  After that, it’s just the predictable journey to Indianapolis–can a snail enter a real auto race?  Well, you know what, the rules don’t say he can’t!–and his inevitable face-off with his TV hero, Guy Gagne (Bill Hader).

The frustrating thing about Turbo is that in one way, it’s genuinely distinct from anything Pixar has done or seems to have any interest in doing.  Far from the bucolic suburbs of the Toy Story movies and the idealized Americana smalltown of Cars, the main action of Turbo takes place in a amazingly specific urban setting:  a low-rent strip-mall just off the 101 Freeway in Van Nuys, where Turbo is adopted by Tito (Michael Pena), a taco food truck driver who, like Turbo, has a dream and a practical brother (Angelo, voiced by Luis Guzman) who just doesn’t believe.  This allows for a gratifyingly diverse array of characters and vocal talent, from the next-door mechanic Paz (Michelle Rodriguez) to Asian manicurist Kim-Ly (Ken Jeong), and Turbo’s fellow new snail friends, who include the voices of Samuel L. Jackson, Snoop Dogg and Maya Rudolph.  This is, literally, a neighborhood where Pixar never treads, and it’s unfortunate that the script by Darren Lemke, Robert D. Siegel and director David Soren doesn’t do much to develop any of its inhabitants.  Turbo doesn’t have a real relationship with any of them, beyond their initial distrust and then awe at his talent. (It’s also a little odd that even though Reynolds seems to be playing an adult character–there’s no attempt to make him sound young–the movie has no hint of a romantic arc for either Turbo or Tito.)  With the occasional exceptions of Giamatti (always a wonderful kvetch), Jackson and Richard Jenkins as another strip-mall shopowner, the voice-work is much blander than it should be.

Turbo has the usual pleasures of a big-budget animated spectacle (the 3D is unnecessary), and there are some thrills in the concluding Indy 500 sequence, but we’ve seen this particular variety of thrills before, in the Cars movies.  There’s nothing in the animation or the plotting to make Turbo stand out, and although it’s mildly enjoyable to watch, Turbo needed a script tune-up it didn’t get.


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."