Dreamworks has been regularly releasing some excellent animated films lately (Kung Fu Panda, Madagascar, Rio, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, How To Train Your Dragon), providing some competition for the Walt Disney stronghold. Turbo is the latest from the Paramount studio, with the tale of a garden snail named Theo (Ryan Reynolds) who dreams of speeding around the Indianapolis 500 track like his idol, the human driver, Guy Gagne (Bill Hader). Gagne’s tagline is that “no dream is too big and no dreamer is too small,” and Theo thinks that mantra is just what he needs!
Like any coming-of-age stories, there are hiccups in Theo’s transformation into Turbo. First, there’s the fact that he’s a snail, but we spend most of the film suspending our belief there. From the direction the story takes, it’s more important that Theo’s brother, Chet (Paul Giamatti), thinks it’s too dangerous and outrageous for Turbo to make it, establishing the typical familial pressure we’ve seen in other stories, but also tying in the family dynamic we might say is true to our human families. But in a series of accidental events, Theo and Chet end up in the snail-racing hands of Tito (Michael Pena), who is also doubted for his mega-dreams by his brother (Luis Guzman).
Parents won’t be surprised that this film climaxes in Indianapolis, but kids will enjoy the hijinks of the pairs of brothers, and the other snails that Theo meets. They’re voiced by a diverse group (Samuel L. Jackson, Maya Rudolph, Snoop Dogg) and owned by another diverse group (Richard Jenkins, Ken Jeong, Michelle Rodriguez). The film’s diversity lets it express itself, even as we see that Theo/Turbo is learning to diversify from a group of worker bee snails who only live for their conquest of the tomato plants.
The film didn’t blow me away but it wasn’t terrible either. The animation is sweet, almost to the point of defying your expectation of what’s fake and what’s real. Fans of NASCAR will love this, and in a world where’s there’s a Fast & Furious 6, there’s room for another car movie! There are family and community dynamics that allow us to see a parable about how we work within our own familial contest, and ask us to consider if we’re being held back by others and if we’re being supportive of their dreams. The truth is that Theo needs the nitro to get to where he’s supposed to be, but he’s been called to that speed all along.
I’m aware in my own experience that my “calling” to a life in ministry as a pastor has been met with support, derision, incredulousness, and roadblocks. But I’ve known that God called me, even when sometimes I wished I could do something else! Like Moses at the burning bush, we have our excuses and people present other “realities” for why we shouldn’t listen to what God is calling us to. In the end, we were made to worship God and to pursue the things he put on our hearts, and anything less would be a waste of time. We might not have a “need for speed” but when we recognize God’s call in our lives, it would be foolish to ignore it.