...shining light on the media, one review at a time
Welcome to the summer of animated sequels, at least according to the box office numbers. While these money-making hits are clearly popular with kids and parents, they do carry with them, by nature of being sequels, a certain sense of redundancy and lack of originality.
Young viewers may not care, but is there any hope for parents who would rather not sit through another ninety minutes of despicable villains or friendly monsters? Turbo races to the rescue with an original story that is inventive, fun, and actually good for your kids.
Theo was born with a need for speed. From sunup to sundown, all Theo thinks about is moving fast and how to move faster. Naturally, his hero is motorsports phenom Guy Gagné, and Theo’s goal in life is to be as good a racer as his idol. There’s just one problem. Theo is a snail.
Despite being an inherently slow animal, Theo believes he was born to race and that, if he keeps his “head in the game,” he can become faster. His obsession with racing makes him the laughingstock of the snail community, as they watch his attempts to race rolling tomatoes on work days at “the Plant.” But Theo’s older brother, Chet, is not laughing.
Chet has all he can do to maintain his own standing amongst the snails while trying to cover for his strange little brother. Chet knows that Theo was not made to be fast and does his best to make his brother let go of the hopeless dream for speed. Safety, not speed, should be a snail’s number one concern, Chet believes.
Disregarding Chet’s admonishments to “be safe,” Theo risks his life in an effort to prove his racing worth. In a twist of fate, Theo survives a freak accident in the engine of a race car, but is a changed snail. He is suddenly fast. Very, very fast.
Picked up by a man named Tito, one part of the human brother duo that runs taco joint Dos Bros Tacos, Theo suddenly finds himself right where he wants to be, on a snail racing track. Incalculably faster than the other snails, Theo immediately bonds with Tito, who hopes that Theo’s racing success will help him bring customers to Dos Bros Tacos and the other shops at the dead strip mall.
Tito’s failed efforts at promotion for Theo do not stop either of them. Instead, Tito and Theo, who dons the racing name of Turbo, conclude that they have to think bigger. Turbo has a very big idea—the Indy 500.
With enough pluck and assistance from Turbo’s snail racing buddies, he just might get to compete in the Indy 500. Even if he does, will Chet’s warnings and fears of a squashed, humiliated little snail prove to be true? The dream may be big, but Turbo may turn out to be a surprisingly big dreamer.
For parents who have their own dream—a movie their kids will love that does not have the negative content that mars some recent “family” movies—Turbo is ahead of the competition. Compared to the other summer kid flicks, Monsters University and Despicable Me 2, Turbo gets the award for most original plot and least harm for children.
Far safer than the rather repulsive Despicable Me 2, Turbo even beats the tamer Monsters U in the content category by avoiding the cartoon violence (“slapstick”) pitfall that Monsters U gets a foot into. Turbo is, sadly, not completely free of slapstick, but the instances of it are minor and few. The worst of such moments comes when Turbo’s racing buddy, Whiplash, slaps Turbo a couple times, supposedly to get him focused on racing better.
Turbo stays safe in other categories, as well. Offensive language is almost nowhere to be heard, with only one use each of “heck” and “son of a gun.”
Sexual content, while it should not be present at all in a children’s film, is limited to two or three instances that are thankfully aimed over kids’ heads. In one rather bizarre moment that does not fit the film’s otherwise innocent tone, a couple snails are heard saying, “Look at her. Nice curves,” just before the next shot shows viewers that the snails are only talking about a tomato. In another moment of fast dialogue, a female snail with a crush on Chet references her “booty,” which is apparently her shell. (This moment is so brief and quick that it can, thankfully, be easily missed.)
There are only a few other areas that could cause concern if kids were to watch this movie without parental guidance. The movie tends to condone daredevil activities that children should not attempt at home, and Chet attributes Turbo’s innate slowness to “Mother Nature,” rather than the Creator God. In addition, Tito takes money from the taco stand that his elder brother, Angelo, had told him he could not use.
The few missteps this film takes in content choices are not severe enough to overcome the positives found in Turbo. The production values are high, with impressive animation that is refreshingly realistic compared with other recent animated pictures. This is a story about the real world we live in (minus talking snails), and the animators’ job, then, is to communicate that authenticity.
The people and animals do not look exactly as they do in life, of course, but the filmmakers of Turbo know how to portray the movement, general physicality, and physiognomy of real people and animals, without overextending their craft to become a distracting near miss. As a result, Turbo can even make viewers forget, at times, that they are watching animation.
Losing oneself in the story of Turbo is made possible by more than the animation. Strong voice actors and fairly engaging writing contribute to this achievement. The screenplay is not as witty or clever as some, but has the advantage of a unique premise. The creativity of the story is used skillfully through pacing that drives to a climactic finish that will have all viewers rooting for Turbo.
Turbo’s greatest win, however, comes from the positive messages that emerge from the tale. The story draws an obvious parallel between the two sets of brothers, Turbo and Chet, Tito and Angelo. Through this comparison, viewers have two chances to learn the importance of familial support and the consequences when such love and encouragement are not there.
The subplot of Tito and Angelo also gives the film a more noble cause than it gets from the central character. Turbo’s pursuit of racing the Indy 500 and being fast is undeniably self-centered. While his brother Chet could be more loving, it’s hard to see Turbo’s point of view when his frustrated goal is so selfish.
The picture is saved by Tito, who provides a much-needed cause viewers can care about. Tito’s quest to make it big with his racing snail has nothing to do with himself. Rather, his selfless desire is to show the world Angelo’s genius with tacos and to bring needed customers to the strip mall.
In addition to the theme of familial love, determination and perseverance also get their moment. When Chet finally gives Turbo encouragement, he says “my little brother never gives up. That’s the best thing about you.” Turbo and Tito are tremendous examples of perseverance and optimism, as they consistently get up when knocked down and keep following their dreams until they become possible.
The emphasis on dreams may be a little too overdone and misleading, leading children to believe they really can attain any dream, no matter how unrealistic. In application, however, what young viewers will see actually demonstrated throughout Turbo is instead the importance of relentless determination and courage in reaching a goal.
Similarly, the danger that Turbo might teach kids to be discontent with real “limitations” or their lot in life is dodged by the example the story ultimately sets. In the end, Turbo has to realize that he is a snail, not a car, and embrace his identity in order to achieve greatness.
Near the climax of the film, the thematic cherry on the top of this Turbo sundae is a countercultural message that celebrity heroes are not all they’re touched up to be.
Turbo, on the other hand, is as good as or even better than it appears in advertising. With an original premise and uplifting content, Turbo surges past the competition to deliver on the family-friendly promise. Parents, enjoy the newness while you can. I sense a Turbo 2 in the future.
“A friend loves at all times,
and a brother is born for adversity.”
– Proverbs 17:17 (ESV)
Check out these similar titles:
Shifting to High Gear (Auto-B-Good, Rising Star Studios, 2007)
Up (Pixar, 2009)
The Incredibles (Pixar, 2004)
For more ideas, check out our What to Watch page!