DreamWorks brings a racing snail to the screen in Turbo. And the results are good...
Something's gone a bit awry at DreamWorks Animation. In years gone past, it could release films of variable quality - Shark Tale, Puss In Boots - and still sit back and watch the moolah roll in. Then, last year's Rise Of The Guardians took some effort to clear $100m at the US box office, in spite of being really rather terrific, and it looked as if there was something of a blip.
Now, with Turbo being significantly hurt by the success of Despicable Me 2 at the US box office over the summer and only pulling in $82m in receipts (against a budget of $135m). What was once a blip now may be a bubble bursting.
Yet it's a pity that this has shone a negative light on Turbo, because - whilst it has its problems - it's still a lot of fun. It tells the story of a snail, voiced by Ryan Reynolds, who has a bizarre dream of becoming a racing star and winning the Indy 500. But in one of those moments of magic that only happens in the movies, an accident gives him super speed powers, and suddenly, Turbo the snail is the fastest racer in town.
What ensues though is an underdog tale, as the establishment gangs up on Turbo, and it's up to him and his small crew to... well, you get the idea.
It's pretty unavoidable for Turbo to find itself in the tracks of films that have covered similar ground, and it doesn't put the bulk of its energies into avoiding that. That said, comparisons to Pixar's Cars movies are wildly unfair - there's more character and heart on the screen in Turbo than in either of those. And first time director David Soren doesn't skimp when it comes to spectacle, either. His opening shot for a start is a corker, but also, when it comes down to race time, Turbo looks brilliant, and is genuinely quite exciting to watch.
But Soren has another trump card, and that's a collection of off-the-beaten-track characters who are equally fun to spend time with. He chooses his voice cast wisely, with the likes of Samuel L Jackson, Paul Giamatti, Luis Guzman and Bill Hader amongst the cast. But also, he's willing to give his characters solid distinctions, and subsequently have plenty of fun with them. For blockbuster moments and good, solid laughs, Turbo is good value. There's a cracking Henry Jackman score to enjoy as well.
Where the film stumbles is when it drives closer to convention, not least as the movie hurtles towards it conclusion. It's not that Turbo outstays its welcome, rather that it feels like there's a lot more of interest in the first half than the second. It's as if Turbo sheds some of its individuality as it hits the last third, and becomes more of a spectacle, but slightly less interesting for it.
That said, it deserves a far better fate than befell it at the US box office. Better than The Croods, which proved a sizeable hit for DreamWorks, Turbo suggests there are some really interesting films to come from David Soren. And this, in spite of its issues, is one of them.
Turbo is out in UK cinemas now.
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