An unusual thing happened in the world of feature film animation this year: DreamWorks didn’t release any sequels. The home of Shrek, Madagascar, and Kung Fu Panda has long been derided as a sequel factory, making their full focus on original projects this year a welcome change of pace. While The Croods ended up becoming a box-office success early this year, DreamWorks hit a rough patch with Turbo this summer, with the speedy little snail seemingly getting lost in the busy seasonal release schedule. Now that the film is available for home consumption, it’s time for the general public to discover that the film is not the also-ran one might expect.
Theo (Ryan Reynolds) is an ordinary garden snail with delusions of speedy grandeur fueled by his obsession with the achievements of five-time Indianapolis 500 winner Guy Gagne (Bill Hader). While all of his friends and his ultra-cautious older brother Chet (Paul Giamatti) are content to go about their daily lives at a snail’s pace, Theo spends his free time practicing to get faster and dreaming of his own racing glory.
When a freak accident grants Theo his fondest wish, he renames himself Turbo and sets out to enter the Indianapolis 500, putting him in direct competition with his idol. Along the way, he befriends a taco stand worker who is also a dreamer with an overbearing older brother, creating a perfectly parallel and largely unnecessary secondary relationship. He also meets other snails who have accepted their slow speed but have found other ways to achieve their own racing dreams. The taco brothers work at a dilapidated strip mall where the other store owners have long ago resigned themselves to their dreary lives, but the arrival of Turbo acts as a catalyst of hope for them all.
As an original story, Turbo is pretty far out there, like it was crafted from a random plot generator that plucked racing, strip malls, brotherly relationships, and snails out of the ether and crammed them together. That makes it all the more surprising that the story ultimately works, and is actually quite sweet and earnest in its execution rather than relying on cheap jokes. While the resolution of the relationships between brothers never really achieves the emotional weight intended, Turbo’s undying drive to realize his dream is more than enough payoff.
As expected, the Blu-ray image quality is spectacular, with no discernible noise or artifacting in even the most hectic of speedy scenes. The soundtrack is ably immersive during those scenes, conveying the stunning surround of the Indianapolis 500 as well as other action moments. Unfortunately, the voice cast is not very impressive, with capable turns from Reynolds and Giamatti but tired retreads from co-stars such as Snoop Dogg and Samuel L. Jackson. Hader puts in the best voice work, nearly unrecognizable as the French Canadian Indy champ.
DreamWorks did a fine job with the bonus features for this release, avoiding the generic making of shorts in favor of an intriguing collection geared toward the younger viewers. The features don’t all connect, particularly the throwaway “Champion’s Corner” that finds a real-life sportscaster interviewing a CG character, but kudos to the studio for thinking outside the box. The best feature by far stars one of the artists on the film who carefully shows how to draw each of the snail characters in pencil…for a full hour! His enthusiasm and instruction are top-notch and well worth the time of all aspiring artists. Elsewhere, there’s a “music maker” that basically functions as karaoke for the film’s songs, a shell creator game where the kids can customize snail shells onscreen with a multitude of options, a storyboard sequence comparison to the final race scene, and one deleted scene.