Of all the animated movies I've seen the past few years, Turbo is one of them. This is such a generic endeavor — not a poor effort, just one that doesn't attempt to do anything besides splash a screen with color and movement. There is nothing unique except that the heroes are snails, a species that animators skip or shove aside.
Here's why: Snails don't bring anything to the idea table except being slow. That's enough to inspire a decent pitch — a supercharged snail races in the Indianapolis 500 — and director David Soren competently traces the story arc pattern for animated underdogs. But the idea doesn't expand much beyond the pitch. Turbo is pleasantly mediocre, easy to watch and dismissible by the time you hit the parking lot.
Ryan Reynolds voices the lead snail, a mollusk mensch named Theo who prefers being called Turbo and loves watching Indy races on television. His hero is racing circuit legend Guy Gagne (Bill Hader), who spouts encouragement in interviews to dream big, no matter how small you are. Turbo trains daily, recently setting a personal record with a 17-minute yardstick time.
Other snails scoff at Turbo's need for speed, especially his overly cautious brother Chet (Paul Giamatti). One night Turbo is watching freeway traffic zip by when he's sucked into the air intake of a muscle car, soaking up velocity-boosting nitrous oxide.
Still woozy, Turbo is picked up by Tito (Michael Pena), the genial co-owner of the Dos Bros taco truck with his brother Angelo (Luis Guzman). Tito enjoys racing snails with working class friends in the strip plaza where he sets up shop. When he witnesses Turbo's extraordinary speed — zero to Indy 500 speed in nothing flat — Tito decides they'll go to the Brickyard and enter the race.
Turbo proceeds the way you'd expect from there but with a disappointing lack of adventure and nothing in the way of innovation. The celebrity voices do as much as they can with the material they're given, and for distinctively aural actors like Samuel L. Jackson and Maya Rudolph it isn't enough.
This is a movie needing more richly imagined sidekicks than other snails and occasionally crows (a funny running gag). It needs to give the culturally diverse human characters more to do. It needs a more dastardly villain, maybe a romance or an emotional event for the hero to overcome. Turbo needs Soren and his co-writers to try anything beyond the basic elements of an animated movie you can ethically charge people to see.
Steve Persall can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8365.