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Shell game

Profile image for By Boo Allen / Film Critic
By Boo Allen / Film Critic

DreamWorks’ ‘Turbo’ falls short pitted next to Pixar’s finest

When you’re a snail, everything probably looks pretty big to you. And when you’re a snail, everyone else probably seems pretty fast to you.

Such is the dilemma faced by Theo, also known as Turbo, the small, slow mollusk who has developed an unlikely fondness for speed.

He’s the title character of DreamWorks’ new animated feature directed by David Soren. Turbo jumps around more than its main character, developing several kid-friendly themes at once: Slow and steady wins the race; never give up; be yourself; follow your dreams.

Working from a script by three writers, Soren dutifully chronicles Turbo’s story of becoming infatuated with the racecar drivers he sees on television. Since the creeping snail wants to match their prowess, a series of events found only in a kids’ animated film gives Turbo (voiced by Ryan Reynolds) super speed. It all starts when he accidentally ingests nitrous oxide.

Turbo’s new speed captivates Tito (Michael Peña), a taco truck entrepreneur who moonlights in snail racing (sure). Before long, Tito and his small group of investors (Richard Jenkins, Michelle Rodriguez and Ken Jeong) have traveled to Indianapolis and finagled Turbo into the Indy 500 (sure). From there, Turbo devolves into a standard win-the-big-one sports movie cliche.

In its blatant, ingratiating attempts to attract youngsters, Turbo includes many of the familiar ingredients for a successful kids’ animated film: fast-moving creatures and objects, talking animals, buffoonish adults, and a simple plot that can’t be criticized for believability or coherence. After all, this is a movie about a talking snail who races in the Indy 500.

In making an obvious comparison between Turbo and virtually any Pixar animated feature, this one lacks the other’s vibrant colors, intricately designed individual shots, and an original, engaging storyline complemented by snappy dialogue. The uninspired dialogue here, however, gives adults one of their few pleasures in trying to name the voice behind the character.

Samuel L. Jackson draws praise for projecting his inimitable energy into the snail Whiplash, while Ken Jeong makes an unlikely, but funny, nail salon proprietress.

The youngest of the young might find distraction in Turbo, while adults might find just enough to drag them to the finish line.

MOVIE RATING

Turbo

** ½

Rated PG, 96 minutes.

Now playing.