Skip to main content

You certainly have the skills to pay the bills. If snails had to pay bills, that is.

Turbo
(2013)

DreamWorks Animation has experienced a roughish ride of late. Too many of their pictures just haven’t done the business. Rise of the Guardians, the recent Mr. Peabody and Sherman and last summer’s big hope Turbo. I thought it would do well. I mean, why not? It calculatingly tapped into Pixar’s success with Cars, and layered on top a strong dash of Ratatouille. Why wouldn’t undiscerning audiences flock to see it with their undiscerning little monsters? I’m still not entirely sure. I mean; it’s a production line assembled underdog story with barely an original bone in its 90-odd minute running time, but its agreeable enough. At least DreamWorks have few pretensions to artistic achievement, unlike the once great Pixar who are now adrift in a creative void.


Part of the problem may have been Turbo’s blatant attempt to manipulate audiences, trying to beckon the Fast and Furious crowd (Michelle Rodriguez even voices a character), and laying on a hip hop soundtrack while importing a selection of national and ethnic stereotypes including a vain French Indy 500 champion (Bill Hader; those dreadful Frenchies, eh?), loveably fat food-obsessed Mexicans (Michael Pena and Luis Guzman) and streetwise urban snails (Snoop Dogg and Samuel L Jackson). Or maybe failure was assured by another cast member; the kiss of death Ryan Reynolds inflicts on any movie where he’s the lead (he voices Turbo).


Some have suggested the movie is condoning winning at sport through doping, as it’s only after the speed-obsessed Theo/Turbo is dunked in a tank of nitrous oxide that he becomes an all-conquering racing champion. But really, this is more akin to your classic superhero (it’s not as if he keeps having to top up, like Popeye or Asterix). In which case his entering a race is also unfair. It seems churlish too, in such an eccentric scenario, to point out that if Turbo is allowed to win by crossing the finishing line automobile-free, then his competitors should surely be permitted to sprint past him, sans car, on foot.


As with any number of animations, CGI or drawn, the incidentals foster the biggest laughs. They may not flow as freely as in the Madagascar series, but much fun is to be had with the mollusc world. We haven’t seen much of the micro life recently, although there were the competing Bug’s Life and Antz way back at the beginning of the CGI era and more recently Bee Movie. It’s very considerate of these snails to consume only over-ripe fruit (perhaps to encourage kids to encourage parents not to inflict carnage on their garden fauna?) but there’s also an appealing casualness to the mortality rates in their world; “Welcome everyone to this monthly safety meeting”, “Well, there goes Jerry” as a snail is plucked into the firmament by a passing bird. There’s also a wretched little snail-destroying child, a marauding crow getting hit by a bus (the crows are decidedly non-anthropomorphic; I always find it curious how animations pick and choose their animal identifiers).


Against this, the constant antagonism towards Turbo’s dreams from his kin (a rare dud from Paul Giamatti, although the continued mistaking Chet for a girl is amusing “Why is this confusing?”; perhaps a nod to most snails being hermaphrodites) is over-familiar and a little pedestrian (“When are you going to wake up?” the admonition that he is “chasing an impossible dream”). Yet the whole remains lively, knows not to outstay its welcome (a rarity now in a genre traditionally happy to wrap things up in well under an hour and a half) and features probably the best role Samuel L Jackson in a decade. He’s nigh on impossible to take seriously these days, churning out the same over-emphatic performance in film after film. So how better to embrace an actor who has become a walking cartoon than make him into one? I know, he was in The Incredibles, but here Jackson sounds not only as if he’s having fun but also he is funny as Whiplash. And you don’t have to see him perma-glowering, which is a bonus.


Nothing the big two released in 2013 was pronounced in any danger of being hailed as a classic, or even particularly memorable, so it’s no wonder Disney regained its animation crown with Frozen. The one good thing about a string of underperformers is it puts the dampeners on sequel plans. In other respects, it’s likely to foster the urge to seek safer and safer sequel ground. But who knows, perhaps Turbo will be a kick in the pants? Fun as it is, it couldn’t be more formulaic.


***

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

He’s probably paranoid, high-strung, doesn’t like daylight. You know, has a lot of crumbs in his beard, if he has a beard.

Godzilla vs. Kong (2021) (SPOILERS) I’d like to report I had a blast with Godzilla vs. Kong . It’s lighter on its oversized, city-stomping feet than its slog of a MonsterVerse predecessor, Godzilla: King of the Monsters , and there are flashes of visual inspiration along with several engaging core ideas (which, to be fair, the series had already laid the seeds for). But this sequel still stumbles in its chief task: assembling an engaging, lively story that successfully integrates both tiny humans and towering titans.

You stink, my friend.

Mulan (2020) (SPOILERS) Let that be a lesson to Disney. It’s a fool’s errand to try and beat the Chinese at their own game, no matter how painstakingly respectful – or rather, pandering – you are. Indeed, Mulan ’s abysmal $40m box office take in the country – where it did get a proper release, so no plandemic excuses can be cited – feels like a direct rebuke; don’t try and tell us how to suck eggs. There’s an additional explanation too, of course. That Mulan sucks.

It's Dark Age, by Jupiter!

The Dig (2021) (SPOILERS) An account of the greatest archaeological find Britain would know until Professor Horner opened the barrow at Devil’s End. And should you scoff at such “ fiction ”, that’s nothing on this adaptation of John Preston’s 2007 novel concerning the Sutton Hoo excavations of the late 1930s. The Dig , as is the onus of any compelling fictional account, takes liberties with the source material, but the erring from the straight and narrow in this case is less an issue than the shift in focus from characters and elements successfully established during the first hour.

Roswell was a smokescreen, we've had a half a dozen better salvage operations.

The X-Files 1.24: The Erlenmeyer Flask The Erlenmeyer Flask makes for a fast-paced, tense and eventful ride, but does it make any sense? That less than mattered at the time, but revisiting the mythology arc (for probably the fourth or fifth time) reveals increasingly tenuous internal coherence as the various conspiracy elements begin to pile up and the situations become ever-more convoluted. This will become the Chris Carter’s signature: don’t examine the details too closely, go with the flow. Trust Chris implicitly.

UFO IN MOSSINGHAM?

A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon (2020) (SPOILERS) One might reasonably suggest the recourse of the ailing or desperate franchise is to resort, seemingly out of nowhere, to space aliens. Even Police Academy didn’t go that far (to Moscow, yes, but not to space). Perhaps animators think kids have no skills of discernment and will swallow any old sugar-coated crap. Perhaps they don’t, and they will. Ice Age had been enjoying absurd success until Collision Course sent Scrat spinning into the cosmos and grosses tumbled. Shaun the Sheep has been around for a quarter of a century, but this is only his second movie outing and already he’s pulling an E.T. on us. Of course, this may all be part of the grand scheme, and Nick Park is simply doing his bit to familiarise the tots in time for Project Blue Beam.

Careful how much boat you’re eating.

Onward (2020) (SPOILERS) Pixar’s Bright , or thereabouts. The interesting thing – perhaps the only interesting thing – about Onward is that it’s almost indiscernible from a DreamWorks Animation effort, where once they cocked a snook at such cheap-seats fare, seeing themselves as better class of animation house altogether. Just about everything in Onward is shamelessly derivative, from the Harry Potter /fantasy genre cash-in to the use of the standard Pixar formula whereby any scenario remotely eccentric or exotic is buried beneath the banal signifiers of modern society: because anything you can imagine must be dragged down to tangible everyday reference points or kids won’t be able to assimilate it. And then there’s the choice of lead voices, in-Disney star-slaves Chris Pratt and Tom Holland.

Our "Bullshit!" team has unearthed spectacular new evidence, which suggests, that Jack the Ripper was, in fact, the Loch Ness Monster.

Amazon Women on the Moon (1987) Cheeseburger Film Sandwich . Apparently, that’s what the French call Amazon Women on the Moon . Except that it probably sounds a little more elegant, since they’d be saying it in French (I hope so, anyway). Given the title, it should be no surprise that it is regarded as a sequel to Kentucky Fried Movie . Which, in some respects, it is. John Landis originally planned to direct the whole of Amazon Women himself, but brought in other directors due to scheduling issues. The finished film is as much of a mess as Kentucky Fried Movie , arrayed with more miss sketches than hit ones, although it’s decidedly less crude and haphazard than the earlier picture. Some have attempted to reclaim Amazon Women as a dazzling satire on TV’s takeover of our lives, but that’s stretching it. There is a fair bit of satire in there, but the filmmakers were just trying to be funny; there’s no polemic or express commentary. But even on such moderate t

By heaven, I’d thrash the life out of you… if I didn’t have to read the Nine O’Clock News.

The Green Man (1956) (SPOILERS) The Green movie from Launder and Gilliat starring Alastair Sim that isn’t Green for Danger. Which is to say, The Green Man can’t quite scale the heady heights of that decade-earlier murder mystery triumph, but neither is it any slouch. Sim is the antagonist this time – albeit a very affable, Sim-ish one – and his sometime protégée, a young George Cole, the hero. If the plot is entirely absurd, Robert Day’s movie wastes no time probing such insufficiencies, ensuring it is very funny, lively and beautifully performed.

Well, I’ll be damned. It’s the gentleman guppy.

Waterworld (1995) (SPOILERS) The production and budgetary woes of “ Kevin’s Gate ” will forever overshadow the movie’s content (and while it may have been the most expensive movie ever to that point – adjusted for inflation, it seems only Cleopatra came close – it has since turned a profit). However, should you somehow manage to avoid the distraction of those legendary problems, the real qualitative concerns are sure to come sailing over the cognitive horizon eventually; Waterworld is just so damned derivative. It’s a seafaring Mad Max. Peter Rader, who first came up with the idea in 1986, admitted as much. David Twohy, who later came aboard, also cited Mad Max 2 ; that kind of rip-off aspect – Jaws birthing Piranha – makes it unsurprising Waterworld was once under consideration by Roger Corman (he couldn’t cost it cheaply enough). Ultimately, there’s never a sufficient sense the movie has managed to become its own thing. Which is a bummer, because it’s frequently quite good fun.

Wow. Asteroids are made of farts. Okay. I got it.

Greenland (2020) (SPOILERS) Global terror porn for overpopulation adherents as Gerard Butler and his family do their darnedest to reach the safety of a bunker in the titular country in the face of an imminent comet impact. Basically, what if 2012 were played straight? These things come to test cinemas in cycles, of course. Sean Connery struggled with a duff rug and a stack of mud in Meteor , while Deep Impact plumbed for another dread comet and Armageddon an asteroid. The former, owing to the combined forces of Bruce Joel Rubin and Michael Tolkin, was a – relatively – more meditative fare. The latter was directed by Michael Bay. And then there’s Roland Emmerich, who having hoisted a big freeze on us in The Day After Tomorrow then wreaked a relatively original source of devastation in the form of 2012 ’s overheating Earth’s core. Greenland , meanwhile, is pretty much what you’d expect from the director of Angel Has Fallen .