Being a garden snail who longs to glide in the fast lane is frustrating, let me tell ya. And Theo is just such a brown and orange mollusk. I mean, hey, everybody has that one thing they can point to that makes them happy. And for Theo it's terrifying, blazing speed. Not that he's ever experienced it, mind you. But if he could, well, he's sure it would hit the spot.
Of course, in his world that's an impossible dream. He can slime his way into the human's garage and watch old tapes of his hero, Guy Gagné, the world's fastest IndyCar racer. He can, ahem, slug back energy drinks and practice his relatively speedy moves, taking merely minutes to move a few yards instead of hours. But then it's just back to the daily grind of harvesting tomatoes in the garden, inching along with the masses and hearing his brother, Chet, plead with him to grow up and forget racing.
Then, on one typically depressing day, Theo makes his way out to the highway to watch the traffic speed past, hoping it'll perk him up. And something does just that. The little snail is accidentally knocked onto the hood of a souped-up car, sucked into the vehicle's engine, submerged in nitrous oxide and blasted out the tailpipe before you can say "on your marks!"
In the process, the impossible happens. Theo's genetic code is miraculously rewritten, and he's suddenly … fast. No, he's incredibly fast. Terrifyingly fast.
Not that that makes Chet any more supportive. He just wants the now-speedy Theo to slow down and get back to the real grind of life. "The sooner you accept the dull, miserable reality of your existence, the happier you'll be," Chet advises.
But that's not going to work for Theo any longer. Thanks to the luminescent gas coursing through his veins, Theo is on a mission. A mission to show his doubting brother that dreams can come true. A mission to make his way to the Indy 500. A mission to change the dictionary. Because from now on, moving like a snail will take on a whole new meaning.
When Theo's brother is snatched up by a hungry crow, the speedy snail takes pursuit and heroically puts his life on the line to save his bro.
The two end up in a strange part of a nearby city, and the rather dangerous locale panics Chet. But Theo treats it as an opportunity, not an obstacle. I should also note, though, that Chet's panic and determination to play things safe aren't motivated by a desire to be an obstinate stick in the mud. He earnestly wants to protect his younger brother whom he loves. "I will not stand by and watch the only brother I've got risk his life to chase some impossible dream," he says. Before long, the two have adapted to their new world and made friends with a group of racing snails and at least one human supporter, Tito.
Like Theo, Tito is something of a dreamer—hoping to come up with a great idea to promote a taco stand he runs with his brother. And together with Theo and the other snails, teamwork and friendship go a long way to fulfill all of their "impossible" dreams.
In that way the movie promotes healthy risk-taking in the face of seemingly impassible roadblocks. And it encourages a sense of "if at first you don't succeed …" perseverance. In fact, even when it looks like all is lost, Theo gives 110% to finish the important task at hand. When he flags, Chet encourages him with, "My little brother never gives up!"
In that vein, the film also makes it clear you should make the most of the life you have. "What if you wake up tomorrow and your powers are gone?" Chet asks Theo. And Theo enthusiastically replies, "Then I'd better make the most of today."
In the case of racer Guy Gagné, Turbo also makes it clear that self-centered narcissism is indeed an ugly thing. Though Guy appears to be a shining role model, especially when quoting his father's axiom, "No dream is too big, and no dreamer too small," it turns out that his every action is for his own self-promotion. It's nice to see that his fakery is exposed here.
Tito expresses a belief in providence when he tells his brother, "This snail crawled into our lives for a reason." Theo prepares to wish upon a falling star … only to have it be a low-flying plane. Chet wonders if he's in heaven at one point in their adventures, then quips, "I imagined it cleaner."
A female racing snail named Burn takes a shine to Chet, telling him that they should be a couple and making a reference to her "booty" (which, of course, consists of a shell). Set up as a wink-wink joke, factory snails gawk at what turns out to be a Perfect 10 tomato. "Look at her," they say. "Nice curves!"
Several snails are snatched up and whisked away by crows—implying that they're about to be eaten. (The other snails approach the subject as an unfortunate but expected part of life.) Several crows fight over Chet (who's withdrawn into his shell) before a speedy Theo saves the day. A crow flies off and is mashed by a speeding bus.
An old woman attacks Gagné, kicking him and applying a choke hold. Theo is threatened by the whirling blades of a lawnmower. (His co-workers save him with a well-timed blast from a lawn hose.) Theo's also nearly crushed by a callous kid on a Big Wheel tricycle and the wheels of Guy's car. (In the former incident he speeds out of the way. In the later he's slammed into a concrete retaining wall, cracking his shell.) The kid with the Big Wheel eventually falls off his trike and bangs into the front door of his house. And a cartoon graphic shows a racing snail being crushed by a wheel.
As mentioned, Theo is sucked into a pumping, churning combustion engine. Guy tries to hit Theo with his car and literally stomp out his competition. An angry snail breaks a man's glasses. IndyCars crash and pile up on the track.
Crude or Profane Language
Solo exclamations of "son of a gun" and "heck."
Drug and Alcohol Content
With steroid use in the sports sector being such a troubling problem today, it should be noted that Theo's dip in the blue nitrous oxide triggers something of a chemical enhancement. The stuff spreads throughout his system and gives him a luminescent glow when he moves quickly—leaving a radioactive-looking slime streak in his wake.
Several adults stand around at a celebration with brown bottles in their hands; a label reads "lager." Theo gulps down swallows of a highly caffeinated energy drink in hopes of speeding up.
Other Negative Elements
Snails hijack and damage a team bus. To finance his new plan, Tito takes the taco stand's emergency fund money without asking his brother. Another potential negative is the fact that Snoop Dogg, who plays one of the racing snails, raps a tune during the movie's closing credits. The song itself is innocuous, but the rest of his catalog certainly isn't.
OK, call me a grump, but to me the idea of a fast and furious snail always felt kinda dumb. It seemed to me that even a kid with an imagination as big as all outdoors would have to wonder how the physics of that motoring mollusk and 500 miles of Indy racetrack might work. (Talk about road rash!) For that matter, how would drivers and spectators at the event even see a teeny, tiny slug-in-a-shell working its way around the track?
But, hey, logic and kids' movies don't always have to go hand-in-hand. I mean, who would ever try to rationalize a town full of talking cars or a rat who could become a famous French chef or a house flying around under a pile of helium balloons? So once you get past the ridiculousness of it all, the enjoyment of a pic like this simply comes down to the fanciful weaving of its yarn and the charming whimsicality of its cast. And in both of those areas Turbo easily earns its winner's circle cheers.
The snaily giggles are slime-free. The characters are broadly and appropriately silly. And though some younger viewers might find a snail-snatching crow or a potential shell-crunching car tire to be a bit perilous, the overall cheeriness and value-your-friends-while-following-your-dreams lessons keep things spinning along like a well-tuned, uh, turbo.
One of my favorite parts of this particular moviegoing experience, however, happened not on the 3-D screen in front of me but in a theater seat not far behind me. The movie's subtly rendered baddie, the always smiling and charming Guy Gagné, started showing his true, not-so-vibrant colors when a tiny voice piped up and exclaimed, "Actually, he's mean!" The outraged tyke wanted to make sure that everyone noticed what had just become crystal clear to her.
I couldn't help but smile. And I happily discarded any last stubborn logical thoughts of asphalt and physics and the goosery of a snail with nitrous oxide in his veins. Yep, this is quite simply a cute and—for all its quest for speed—cautious pic best enjoyed with little ones who readily embrace absurdity and who cheer for a checkered-flag happy ending for their brand-new squiggly pals.
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
Comedy, Action/Adventure, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Animation, Kids
Voices of Ryan Reynolds as Theo/Turbo; Paul Giamatti as Chet; Michael Peña as Tito; Luis Guzmán as Angelo; Bill Hader as Guy Gagné; Samuel L. Jackson as Whiplash; Michelle Rodriguez as Paz
20th Century Fox
July 17, 2013
Bob Hoose Bob Hoose