From “Dumbo” to “Ratatouille,” the history of motion pictures is filled with animated films starring creatures who want to do more than what they’ve been allotted in life. It was only a matter of time before someone made a movie about a snail who wants to do more than slowly slide around, trying to avoid salt and everything.
In Turbo, a.k.a. this week’s computer-animated summer film, Ryan Reynolds voices Theo, a snail who longs to be a racer. He often stays up nights to watch old VHS clips of his favorite racecar driver, French-Canadian Indianapolis 500 champ Guy Gagne (Bill Hader), in action. His more responsible brother Chet (Paul Giamatti) would prefer he kept his head out of the clouds and more into their day jobs: Harvesting tomatoes in somebody’s garden.
Theo’s dream becomes a reality when he consumes nitrous oxide during an underground street-racing incident. (Yeah, don’t ask.) Somehow, this gives our protagonist many automotive attributes, including eyes that beam like headlights, a booming stereo system and, more importantly, supernatural speed. This comes in handy when Theo and Chet find themselves at a run-down strip mall, where the inhabitants have late-night snail races. Samuel L. Jackson, Maya Rudolph and Snoop Dogg voice a few of the sassy, rival snails, and a taco truck driver named Tito (Michael Pena) feels that Theo could be the saving grace for the mall, especially the Mexican take-out place he runs with his brother (Luis Guzman).
And therein lies what Turbo is essentially about: When siblings attack. Both Theo and Tito see themselves as kindred spirits, since they have older brothers who should support them but appear to keep them down. The respective big brothers are stubbornly unshakable in their belief that their little bros are chasing pipe dreams, even when both Tito and Theo end up in the Indy 500, where the little mollusk competes along with other racers, including his idol Gagne.
"Turbo" is pleasant enough, even though it’s a bit too long, some of the voices are hammy and stereotypical (Ken Jeong voices a diminutive, Asian nail-salon owner, of course) and, compared to "Monsters University" and "Despicable Me 2," it’s moody and sluggish (pardon the pun). But the climactic, Indy 500 race is excitingly paced, although it does peter out and appear to rip off Will Ferrell’s "Talladega Nights," another movie where a speed freak goes up against a cocky Frenchman.
Director: David Soren
Voices of: Ryan Reynolds, Paul Giamatti
Grade: 2 out of 5 Globes