Published Jul 17, 2013With a premise that could easily have been formulated by the very demographic it caters to, the latest animated DreamWorks effort, Turbo, posits a factory-working snail — employed inside a "plant," literally — turned Indy 500 competitor after a hot rod accident and some nitrous oxide mutate him into the titular Turbo (Ryan Reynolds).
Headlight eyes, an internal stereo and lightning speed are just a few of the progressive traits he gains — a curious metaphor for modern society's preoccupation with immediacy, speed and energy — making his generic "you can do anything" trajectory a problem for his hyper-conservative brother, Chet (Paul Giamatti).
This inherent set up — a tortoise and hare duality reinforcing the everyone-is-special ethos plaguing modern culture with collective entitlement — is as familiar as the many broad sight gags and caricatures littered throughout. As Turbo teams up with a taco stand owner moonlighting as a flea circus race enthusiast (Michael Peña) to battle his idol turned nemesis (Bill Hader), the checklist for safe, formulaic family fun leaves everything feeling rote and uninspired. Turbo is a bit of forgettable banality picking at the carcass of all things Pixar.
Though vibrant, colourful and definitely kinetic enough to distract from its simultaneously liberal and vaguely racist undertones, there's an overall contradictory sense that it's little more than good intentions bogged down by traditionalist thought. Turbo's guiding arc of embracing independence and overcoming self-imposed obstacles is fuelled by the concept of the "other" fighting back against oppressive, subjugating forces in an inherently white and heteronormative shell (Chet). His alliance with a Latino taco stand owner and a group of urban street racers (Snoop Dogg and Samuel L. Jackson, to name a couple) suggests intentional racial underdog subversion, which would be great if everyone weren't presented as such derogatory stereotypes.
Of course, this sort of bland pandering — a desultory mishmash of harmonious, take-back-the-night trifle — is standard issue for this sort of feature-length consumer product. Racial stereotypes make kids laugh (apparently), which in turn sells toys. However, since flat-out hate propaganda is frowned upon in polite society, it's easier to make a buck by convincing parents that their children are learning to appreciate diversity rather than revel in its divisiveness and generally patronizing social context.
But, hey, the race scenes are super-exciting. (Fox)