Two stars (out of four)
An animated tale of a feisty snail who dreams of putting the “go” in escargot with a run at the Indianapolis 500, Turbo probably won’t win the summer animations sweepstakes, but neither does it crash and burn.
Theo the garden snail, voiced by Canada’s Ryan Reynolds, is an ambitious little crawler who strains and trains to break his 17-minute “speed” record on a three-foot-long racetrack. He’s even given himself an ambitious nickname to add inspiration: Turbo.
Turbo is an outsider at The Plant (literally), a tomato patch where other snails are content to munch veggie spoils and leave sticky trails under the watchful stalked eyes of safety supervisor Chet (Paul Giamatti, in a bit of genius casting) who cautions about threats from crows above and a nasty tricycle-riding kid below.
Turbo’s hero-worship of French Canadian egomaniac Indy champ Guy Gagné (Saturday Night Live’s Bill Hader, curiously sounding more like Antonio Banderas) borders on obsession. Chet, who disapproves of risks almost as much as he does fanciful dreams of glory, reminds his brother that he needs to keep his slimy foot on the ground and his head out of the clouds.
A meet-up with a street racer’s nitrous oxide fuel tank magically transforms Turbo into a spiral-shelled fireball. Finding himself far from The Plant, he teams up with fellow dreamer and Dos Bros Taco food truck driver Tito (Michael Peña) and his fine field of street-smart racing snails.
Tito has a dream-doubting sibling of his own, Angelo (Luis Guzmán), the other half of Dos Bros Tacos, which is struggling along with the other businesses at a rundown Van Nuys strip mall. But Tito knows he can take his spiral-shelled Rocky all the way to the Indy with the financial help of the mall’s ragtag bunch of business owners, voiced with hammy enthusiasm by Richard Jenkins, Michelle Rodriguez and Ken Jeong.
There are several funny bits in the script by Toronto’s David Soren (writing along with Darren Lemke and Robert Siegel), who also directs. Ever wonder how snails applaud? You’ll get your answer here.
The snail racers, headed by stern Whiplash (Samuel L. Jackson), is more a “collect all five!” cry for a kiddie meal product placement than memorable characters, although there is an amusing running gag with a corpulent snail who fancies himself the mysterious White Shadow (Michael Patrick Bell). Snoop Dog, Ben Schwartz and Maya Rudolph voice the rest of the wisecracking mollusc clan.
The story has some obvious parallels with previous animated flicks, most notably Disney’s Cars franchise, but Turbo doesn’t earn the same likability points as more fleshed-out characters like Lightning McQueen and lovable lug Mater.
Turbo’s colourful trek to product placement-littered Indianapolis is as rote as it gets, but little viewers won’t care about predictability. And while the exciting track scenes — three-time Indy winner Dario Franchitti was the main racing consultant — will get audiences in the speedy groove initially, things do wear on a bit. Even though our story is about snails, must it take so long to get where we know it’s going?