Thursday, July 18, 2013

Turbo [2013]

MPAA (G)  CNS/USCCB (A-I) (2 1/2 Stars)  AVClub (B-)  Fr. Dennis (3 Stars)

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB (J. McAleer) review
LaRaza (I. Tostado)* review (M. Zoller-Seitz) review
AVClub (A.A. Dowd) review 

While not perfect, Steven Spielberg founded Dreamworks' Turbo [2013] (directed and cowritten by Allen Soren along with Darren Lemke and Robert D. Siegel) points toward a much better way of making a fun children's film these days than some of its far more racist competitors (see my reviews of Despicable Me 2 [2013], Hop [2011], Hoodwinked Too [2011], Diary of a Wimpy Kid 2: Rodrick's Rules [2011]).  Again, the film is not perfect: For no particularly clear reason, Turbo's creators chose to make the film's chief villain of an easily identifiable ethnicity (something that will certainly confuse people and hurt the film's prospects outside of the the U.S. because this decision was more or less self-evidently gratuitous, as the film could have easily played out just as well, IMHO much better, without this needlessly stupid / problematic plot twist).  However, at least this is a film where parents of children of most (but, sigh, not all ...) ethnicities and complexions in this country will not be scratching their heads too much asking themselves: Hey wait a minute is this film trying to make fun of us and our kids?

So what's the film about?  Snails ;-)  Yes, snails, in particular about a snail who nicknames himself "Turbo" (voiced by Ryan Reynolds) who dreams of "going fast."  Part of a colony of snails living in and around a garden of a random house in a random subdivision in Southern California -- anyone who's spent some time in the Los Angeles area would probably notice after a while, especially at night "when the sprinklers go on" :-), how many snails there are out there -- "Turbo" would spend his evenings in the garage of said random house in said random subdivision in Southern California watching videos of auto-races on the TV that the owner of said random house in said random subdivision in SoCAL had set-up in said garage, dreaming that he (snail "Turbo") could "go fast!"

The rest of the snails in and around the garden thought, of course, that he's nuts.  Even his brother snail, Chet (voiced by Paul Giamatti), who spends much of his time defending his "dreamer" brother "Turbo," tries to tell him that though snails have many gifts, "fastness" is not one of them and to just accept it.  But "Turbo" of course, can not, slithering his way every so often from the property of said random house in random subdivision to the railing of a random overpass over the "101-Freeway" to watch the cars go by ... "fast."

Well one evening ... as he's standing there, attached to the railing of said random overpass over said 101-Freeway, something knocks him off of said railing and instinctively "ducking (into his shell) and rolling" he finds himself knocked about by the cars on the freeway until he finds himself knocked clear over and into the concrete ditch that is the L.A. River most of the year.  There he finds himself in front of the starting-line of what appears to be an (not altogether legal) drag race between two sets of teens/young adults in a couple souped-up race cars.  When the race starts, he gets sucked-up first onto the hood of one of those cars and then through its air intake into the engine where with contact with nitrogen oxide HE gets "supercharged" resulting ... after his being kicked-out through the exhaust of said car ... in him being "changed" and having the new/miraculous ability of being able to go ... very, very FAST! ;-)

His prayers have been answered, his dream has come true.  Now he finds himself being able to travel as fast as anybody/any car on the road ... being able go to faster than any snail had ever been able to go before.  All excited , the next day he tries to show his fellow snails what he can do, EXCEPT, of course, the other snails, stupified, just don't know how to respond ... Snails _just don't do that_ ... go fast ;-)

Indeed, discombobulated by his brother's sudden "fastness," Chet finds himself momentarily unaware of his surroundings ... and a GIANT CROW swoops down to pick him up and carry him away, presumably to eat him.  "Turbo" now super charged/super fast, follows said crow from the ground and is able to "be there" when Chet is accidently dropped from the sky by said GIANT CROW (who had found himself fighting with OTHER GIANT CROWS over the snail, Chet, he had in his claws and thus dropped him...) onto the parking lot of an(other) utterly random part of Los Angeles -- a random, corner strip mall, again somewhere in that gigantic city of largely concrete and steel.

There, after both Chet and Turbo catch their breaths, a random human, named Tito (voiced by Michael Peña) captures them under a glass ... and the second part of the story begins ;-).

Now Tito had his own story that we soon learn:  He was the younger brother of a two brother team, the other being Angelo (voiced by Luis Guzmán) running a small taco stand ("Two Bros. Tacos") out of said random corner strip mall somewhere in Southern California.  Except business was not going well.  Why?  Well, anyone who's ever spent sometime in Southern California knows that there are thousands and thousands and thousands of random corner strip malls JUST LIKE IT ... EVERYWHERE.  Even Tito's driving a "Taco truck" around the random streets of the random part of Los Angeles where they lived/worked with a GIANT PLASTIC TACO ATTACHED TO ITS ROOF to drum up business wasn't particularly doing so.  Still that didn't keep Tito from "dreaming" ...

Older brother Angelo, like snail Turbo's older brother Chet would kinda wish that Tito would "dream less" and "drive/sell tacos more..." but Tito was Tito.  And he so he'd dream and do all sorts of other seemingly utterly impractical things that he connected with those dreams believing that somehow, someday, something's gonna work and the two bros (he wasn't dreaming just for himself but for his brother and indeed for his other random corner strip mall friends) would succeed.

Well, one of the utterly impractical things that Tito would do is ... hold evening "snail races" in back of the corner strip mall ;-).  And suddenly out of nowhere, dropped-out of the sky/arrived on the pavement of his random, corner strip mall a snail that's ... REALLY, REALLY, INDEED, UNBELIEVABLY ... FAST ;-)

Now, interestingly enough, this is not to say that the other snails -- Whiplash (voiced by Samuel L. Jackson), Smooth Move (voiced by Snoop Dogg), Burn (voiced by Maya Rudolph), Skid Mark (voiced by Ben Schwartz) and White Shadow (voiced by Mike Bell) -- that Tito's collected "over the years" didn't find their own, often very inventive ways of being fast.  It's just that, as Whiplash himself soon sees, Turbo's got "the skills to pay the bills, that's if snails had bills to pay that is." ;-).  Turbo's new magical ability appears capable of changing EVERYTHING for EVERYBODY.

Initially, Tito appears content to just race Turbo that at the random corner strip-mall (that no one goes to...).  However, Turbo himself convinces him by circling a billboard sign by the random strip-mall of "Indy-500 champion" Guy Gagné (voiced in the film by Bill Hader) to try to enter him into the Indy-500.

So Tito loads up his/Angelo's Taco truck with his snails, as well as with his random corner strip mall shopkeeper companions -- Paz (voiced by Michelle Rodriguez) owner of a garage, Kim Ly (voiced by Ken Jeong) owner of a "nail salon", and Bobby (voiced by Richard Jenkins) owner of a toy/modeling shop that no one goes to -- and they ALL head-off to Indianapolis ... to meet their destiny (all actually except for Angelo, who stays at random largely unpatronized corner strip mall "in case business would pick-up...."  Much ensues ... and as a result of all that does ensue ... by the end, "business" REALLY DOES "pick-up" and DRAMATICALLY SO at their previously largely unpatronized, random corner strip mall back in a previously random part L.A ;-).

So as Michael Peña who was born and grew-up in Chicago's "little village" barrio "dreaming," the film's about friends, family and never ever giving-up on your dreams.* 

Again, with the single exception of the needless/stupid insertion of a "villain" into the film near its end (the film really didn't need one... and it needlessly hurts an entire language group across the planet) WHAT A LOVELY, LOVELY STORY ;-)

* Foreign (in this case Spanish) language links are generally most easily (machine) translated using Google's Chrome browser. 

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  1. The Brown Garden Snail (Helix aspersa aspersa) crawling all over SoCal is the exact same species out of which the French have been making escargot for centuries. You can catch 'em, feed 'em greens and/or corn meal for two weeks, and cook 'em, if you want to. Every schoolchild learns that the snails escaped from a shipment from France to a French chef somewhere up in the Bay Area; one can safely conclude that considerable negligence was involved at some point: "They're making a break for it! How will we catch 'em?"

  2. I've got to agree with the needless imposition of the Villain label on Guy, I just don't think it has much to do with language grouping as it is a betrayal of character and an obvious contrivance.