Film Review: Turbo

Super-powered snail tries to win the Indianapolis 500 in this broad, cheerful cartoon.

Can a snail win the Indy 500? That's the premise behind Turbo, but the real question for this movie is whether it can beat Despicable 2's Minions before Disney's Planes comes out. Apart from the snail angle, this DreamWorks entry is more affable than ambitious, which might make it less-than-essential viewing for families suffering animation fatigue.

Like the best Pixar movies, Turbo is an underdog tale in which an outcast loner—in this case Theo (voiced by Ryan Reynolds), a garden snail who dreams of car racing—must learn teamwork and self-esteem. Screenwriters David Soren, Darren Lemke and Robert Siegel raise these contradictory ideals every few minutes in lines like "We all have our limitations."

That's spoken by Chet (Paul Giamatti), Theo's worrywart brother and the head of security in the tomato garden where they live. When Theo's daydreaming threatens to destroy their home, he "runs" away. Sucked into a hot rod, he breathes in nitrous oxide fuel and becomes super-fast.

Theo, soon to be nicknamed "Turbo," and Chet wind up at a taco stand run by Tito (Michael Peña), a dreamer, and his down-to-earth brother Angelo (Luis Guzmán). To raise cash, Tito had already been holding snail races with a crew that includes Whiplash (Samuel L. Jackson), White Shadow (Michael Patrick Bell), Burn (Maya Rudolph) and Smoove Move (Snoop Dogg). When Turbo shows off his speed, Tito decides to enter him in the Indy 500.

Despite sensible objections from Chet and Angelo, Tito, Turbo and the others make their way to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, where the French-Canadian racer Guy Gagne (Bill Hader) is the odds-on favorite to win.

Hader has fun with his obnoxious character, just as Jackson does as a snail who can back up his verbal threats. In fact the voice work on the whole is excellent, from Giamatti's anguished asides to Guzmán's more low-key exasperation.

The animation is pleasant enough, although the snails and humans alike have a generic look. A few sequences stand out, like a molecular view of Turbo's transformation to speed demon, but for the most part the action is pretty humdrum. 3D effects are kept to a minimum, even during the races.

Thankfully the script doesn't pander to older viewers. Snark is pretty much absent, and pop-culture jokes are largely confined to the hip-hop-inflected soundtrack. Unfortunately, that means there's not much here to keep adults occupied. The snails have an amusingly high mortality rate, and a few smart jokes are tucked behind the action. (A bottle of picante sauce has the warning: Product causes death.)

But Turbo's focus is on kids, so parents will be limited to deciding whether snails are a better investment than Minions or planes.