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Article by Teddy Durgin

Turbo Zooms to the Finish Line in Style

"Turbo" is the most pleasant surprise of the 2013 summer movie season! It is a smart, funny, involving animated action flick that surprised me by how grounded in the real world it is despite an admittedly goofy premise. The film centers on the title character (voice of Ryan Reynolds), a garden snail who wishes he had great speed. Actually, Turbo dreams of one day racing on the NASCAR circuit, a crazy aspiration that brings him into constant conflict with his pessimistic brother, Chet (voice of Paul Giamatti), and the dozens of other worker-drone snails who labor and live in a suburban Southern California homeowner's vegetable garden. Fed up with his humdrum existence, Turbo ventures out of the neighborhood one evening and marvels at the speeding traffic on a nearby highway. The force of a passing semi propels him off the overpass and into a "Fast & Furious"-style drag race where he is sucked into the nitrous-fueled engine of one of the hot rods. He emerges changed, suddenly possessing great racing speed. He is soon discovered by Tito (voice of Michael Pena), a good-hearted young man who runs a taco business with pragmatic brother, Angelo (voice of Luis Guzman). Tito and Turbo end up being kindred spirits, as Tito also has big dreams of being more than he is. He soon discovers Turbo's amazing power, and the plucky snail is able to give him the idea of entering the Indy 500. OK, now there are a dozen different ways this flick could have failed. Its main plot is absurd, of course. A snail racing in the Indy 500? How could spectators see him? How could the TV cameras pick him up? The visual solution arrived at in the film is simple. Turbo leaves a streak of neon blue behind him wherever he runs. So, it is always clear where the tiny snail is in relation to the big, imposing race cars on the track. I also like that "Turbo" gave us three distinct worlds and made them all feel very real. The first act of the movie is set in that wonderful vegetable garden, and it's basically a big workplace for snails with a demanding foreman, a system of operations, daily lunch breaks, periodic safety meetings and so forth. Then, Turbo and Chet leave their comfort zone and inhabit Tito and Angelo's world in the second act. The two human brothers operate their failing business in a rundown strip shopping center. The animation in this section of the film is just terrific, a bit similar to the downtrodden Radiator Falls of the first "Cars" movie, but with a more gritty city feel. The third act is where the animators get to show off, taking the action to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. I like the efficiency of storytelling in this last act of "Turbo." There could have been a lot of time wasted on the road trip from California to Indiana, but there's not. And when the characters get to Indy, the screenwriters believably get Turbo entered into the race and - BOOM! - the race starts. Yes, the premise is preposterous. But sometimes the most memorable films have featured the nuttiest story hooks. A farmer hears a voice that tells him to build a baseball diamond in his cornfield. A runt pig is raised by dogs and embarks on a career in sheep-herding. A puppeteer takes a boring job as a file clerk and discovers a portal into the mind of actor John Malkovich. Those were all nutty, nutty stories that could never have worked unless executed by filmmakers with a clear vision of how to bring those stories to screen. Now, "Turbo" will probably never be mentioned in the same breath as "Field of Dreams," "Babe," and "Being John Malkovich." But the film works. It's a miracle that it works. It really shouldn't have. But it does, and I loved it.

 

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