After a series of blockbuster disappointments, it was beginning to feel as though the dog days of summer were wearing everyone down. Was it too much to ask for some air-conditioned fun at the movies? The latest from DreamWorks, Turbo offers just that. The unlikely star here is the titular snail (voiced by Ryan Reynolds), who’s a molluscs with motoring ambitions. Frustrated with the daily grind at the plant (a.k.a. the vegetable garden), Turbo spends his days fantasizing of Formula 1 racing. When a freak accident gives him the speedy powers he desires, he’s off to the Indy 500 to live out his dreams.
With Turbo, director David Soren (read our interview!) makes a nimble and deft first-time feature that’s gleefully ludicrous while steeped in enough realism to ground it in touching sentiment. This is largely thanks to the fact that Turbo wears its shtick on its sleeve, reveling in silly fun and rarely pandering with easy gimmicks. As one character declares: “There’s no rule that says a snail can’t race in the Indy 500.” And you know what? There most likely isn’t. In this way, the film is an exercise in letting go and allowing for an insane, sometimes inspired, childlike logic to play out.
And insane it is. The snail community and driving sequences are vividly rendered, based in a recognizable L.A., but infused with an otherworldly quality. One souped-up race sequence involves video game-like graphics of a massive looming tomato, grass blades flying like daggers, and a menacing lawn mower. But the thrilling action never overpowers the film, as it’s balanced with a sense of naturalism and an uplifting attitude. At its mushy slug core, Turbo is an insightful underdog tale about dreaming, succeeding, and self-acceptance.