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Turbo (2013)

In the world of high-end CGI animation, Dreamworks Animation has traditionally played second-fiddle to their nearest rivals, Pixar. Their reputation was for more commercial, pop-culture reference-filled films that never enjoyed the same level of universal acclaim as their competitors. More recently though Dreamworks seems to have been on the up, and at their very best they are now able to go toe-to-toe with Pixar themselves. In many ways, Turbo feels like something of a backwards step, a throwback to the Dreamworks Animation of old.

As Hollywood animation has become more sophisticated, so have the plots. Pitches that can fit on the back of a postage stamp are becoming less common. Turbo's simplistic premise of a snail that wants to race feels like it comes from a bygone era. The animation, on the other hand, is bang-up-to-date, so the film at least looks half-way decent. Dreamworks's animators are at the top of their game, creating a convincing world for our miniature character to inhabit, with everyday items for us becoming terrifying from a snail's perspective. This playing with perspective is nothing new in animation  (it was most recently deployed in Blue Sky's Epic) but it's usually effective. As often with Dreamworks though, the character designs are something more of an acquired taste.

The choice to make most of the cast snails is a bizarre one. Although they try and present the various snails as varied and distinctive, with the humble mollusc there's only so much you can do. The lead characters are therefore somewhat unappealing visually. The human characters, on the other hand, are just fine, with a suitably cartoony look to suit the film's daft premise. The human cast is refreshingly diverse too, with a Latino character in the leading human role. This is somewhat undermined however with some unfortunate racial stereotyping, particularly in the form of the caricatured old Asian lady (voiced- naturally- by Ken Jeong).

The film starts in the snail world, with the lead character bored with the slow-pace of his life, while dreaming of racing in the Indy 500. Appropriately, it's a slow start (you might even say... sluggish) and this section of the film offers nothing that hasn't been done before (better) by the likes of A Bugs Life and Dreamworks's own Antz. It's not until Turbo acquires super-speed in an unfortunate accident that the film starts to pick up. The high-speed sequences are highly enjoyable and much more visually interesting than the rest of the film so far. The Nitro-fuelled neon-streaked chases have the look of a kind of miniature version of Tron.

Sadly, the film is unable to maintain its sense of momentum. The climax, where Turbo is allowed to follow his dream and enter the Indy 500 doesn't manage to recreate the excitement. Much like Formula 1, Indy isn't really a sport that translates well to film. Watching cars zoom around a track 200 plus times (admittedly not in real time) is just not that cinematic. Even when one of the "cars" is a Snail.

Dreamworks is one of the worse offenders when it comes to stunt casting, and Turbo is no different. Ryan Reynolds brings essentially nothing to the lead role, phoning-in a bland and unmemorable performance. Although nobody truly stands out, there's solid support elsewhere in the cast, including the ever-reliable Samuel L Jackson and a fun turn from Snoop Dogg.

Turbo is no disaster. It has its moments and will likely entertain children -and undemanding adults. If this had come out earlier, we'd probably have been more generous- but we've come to expect so much better from Dreamworks. Must try harder.

TURBO  is Available On Blu-Ray and DVD from 20th CENTURY FOX HOME ENTERTAINMENT. Also currently STREAMING via NETFLIX (US).