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‘Turbo’ uses kid-friendly formula that works

POSTED: July 17, 2013 6:23 p.m.

Perhaps the only feat more amazing than a snail racing in the Indianapolis 500 is a group of filmmakers making a good movie about a snail racing in the Indianapolis 500.

DreamWorks Animation and first-time director David Soren do exactly that with “Turbo.” They transform a concept that shouldn’t work at all into a thoroughly enjoyable, family-friendly movie.

That isn’t to say this is a great film. Beyond a completely implausible story concept, “Turbo” has to overcome numerous flaws, foremost among them is a lack of originality.

Turbo (Ryan Reynolds) dreams of being a racer and escaping the mundane and fearful life of a snail. One night, he is sucked into the nitrous-oxide system of a street racer and undergoes a physical transformation. The nitrous oxide fuses with Turbo’s blood cells and makes him incredibly fast. It also makes his eyes glow.

Those effects make a kind of sense. But Turbo suddenly has taillights, turn signals and a radio. There is no way of explaining that. They are only there to set up jokes.

Turbo and his practical, discouraging older brother Chet (Paul Giamatti) are captured by Tito (Michael Peña), who, along with his brother Angelo (Luis Guzman), runs a taco stand in a run-down shopping plaza.

As fate would have it, when he isn’t being hounded by his own practical, discouraging older brother, Tito races snails against the owners of the other businesses in the plaza. Turbo showcases his amazing speed, and soon Tito and Turbo set out to enter the Indy 500.

So a down-on-his-luck human character teams with an animal usually regarded as a pest to fulfill both of their dreams. Think of it as an American “Ratatouille.”

Tito and Turbo’s big dream is financed by the owners of the other shops, who hope Turbo can save their dying businesses. Think of it as an urban “Cars.”

Think of the Indy 500 storyline as, well, every other movie built around a climactic race.

This is an amazingly formulaic movie, but also a reminder of why these formulas exist: They work when the filmmakers do something fun with them.

In the case of “Turbo,” the animation is wonderful, particularly the scenes showing Turbo’s transformation and all of the racing scenes.

The voice cast is hip and hilarious, featuring Samuel L. Jackson, Bill Hader, Maya Rudolph, Richard Jenkins, Michelle Rodriguez and Snoop Dogg.

My only bone to pick with the cast is the presence of Ken Jeong. He is not the only Asian actor in Hollywood, people. He is so overused here he voices a female character. It’s a shame producers didn’t cast one of the many talented Hollywood actresses of Asian descent instead.

Yes, the movie suffers from these and other problems, and none of it makes any sense outside of a young child’s imagination.

But that is exactly why the movie works, because it conforms to kid logic rather than grown-up logic. Kids enjoy a freedom of imagination most adults can only experience vicariously, and ultimately that’s what the movie provides.

Perhaps what I like best about “Turbo” is it’s a genuine PG movie. The Hollywood trend for years now is to market PG-13 movies to kids and parents, but “Turbo” is truly fun for all ages.

There are only fleeting moments of scary peril. The rest of the action is of the racing variety. And the entire story is told with an infectious innocence.

This is destined to receive mediocre reviews at best, because it isn’t made for critics. “Turbo” is unapologetically for the kids and their parents, especially the Generation X parents who will get all of the subtle references.

There are no pretentions or aspirations to reinvent anything, only an earnest attempt to provide escapist entertainment that encourages kids to aspire to something great and persevere until they achieve it.

Couple that attitude with the movie’s exquisite animation, and “Turbo” is a winner.

Jeff Marker is head of the Communication, Media & Journalism Department at the University of North Georgia. His reviews appear weekly in Get Out and on gainesvilletimes.com/getout.


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