Weird, but fun. I’ll finish this post in the morning.
Bugs, Toys, Robots, Fish, Cars, Planes OK, why not snails? Just about every sort of critter has been used as the basis of an animated movie at some point in the past. I guess that leaves us at the bottom of the list for this movie. It’s not really a put down, in fact I appreciate that someone has managed to make a subject that I previously would have thought unappealing, somewhat watchable. As I sat watching this I kept thinking of “Ratatouille” and how awkward it was to get over the idea of rats in the kitchen. Here we have to get used to snails in the taco truck. It wasn’t easy but by the time the film ends it doesn’t really bother any more, at least not as far as the grossness factor. The concept is still strange but it was inventive enough that most people will be able to suspend their disbelieve sufficiently to just sit back and enjoy.
The most obvious plot string for a movie about snails to pull on is their speed. “Slowing down to a snail’s pace” is a cliche phrase for a reason. The idea that a snail might dream about speed makes sense, that there could be some humor based on snails that are still slow or other characters that are not used to fast snails is perfectly legitimate. Getting a snail into the Indy 500, that’s just odd. I can’t quite put my finger on why but it is. It was hard enough for me to believe that someone would put together snail races, the extra step of having them race on a track with cars just stretches the concept a little more than I was comfortable with. Still there are some fun moments, and the characters are occasionally interesting. The best thing in the movie though are the visual jokes, and the race track sequences allow us to have a few of those.
I actually enjoyed the first part of the film the most. The every day drudgery of being a snail was tweaked in interesting ways. The idea that a collective of snails is responsible for harvesting food, that they anticipate the ripening of a tomato, or that they want to avoid spoiled food is funny. Crows make a few guest appearances in the story and every time they do, you get a pretty solid laugh. It was amusing to me that our hero, Theo aka “Turbo”, finds it a surrender to use the one defense mechanism that a snail has. This marks him as different for sure, but also as reckless and impractical. Ryan Reynolds does fine giving our racing snail the enthusiasm the character needs. His voice is not distinctive or particularly interesting but it does have a youthful tone to it that works for a minimal shortcut to “Turbo’s” personality. Paul Giamatti was born to play characters that are the equivalent of “Eeyore”. As the sad sack brother “Chet”, he is the personal (human interest) element that the story needs to give it some emotion. If Turbo can turn his brother around then all sorts of hope exists. We get a parallel story of brothers on the human side as well. Tito and Angelo are doppelgangers for our two snails and I guess it’s needed to get us to care about a snail’s ability to inspire. There are also several jokes made about the food truck so it provides a more target rich environment than just the garden.
I know it will sound silly to complain about how hackneyed an idea is in an animated movie about racing snails, but there was virtually no reason to have a human villain. Guy Gagne, “Turbo’s” car racing hero did not need to be turned into a murderous cheater to make the story work dramatically. If he had stayed simply the hyper competitive rival who learns that he is not all that, it would have been sufficient. The last part of the story with him feels like dramatic overkill. There could have been more about both sets of brothers that would have worked just fine. Most of the characters don’t get much more than a voice actor to give them personality. The look of some of them is fine, but other than the joke about shadows not being inherently fast, a lot of the characters just are not needed. The voices are all familiar, and I did enjoy the fact that Richard Jenkins animated character looks exactly like him. I could not tell why Snoop Dog, or Samuel Jackson were doing voice work, except maybe to give the urban song score more street cred. Bill Hader does an accent so why is his voice needed? Ken Jeong screeches out a voice that is annoying, but it is a stereotype and that seemed a bit over the top as well.
The look of the movie is very good in all regards except one. The garden is realistic and inventive, the snails with racing equipment are funny, the cars and the track and the taco truck all look great. It is the human characters that are all a bit off. They all have these huge triangular shaped bodies and nearly blank but definitely bland faces. It amazes me that snails can be made to have interesting faces with the antennae eyes and not much else but the human faces don’t have much personality at all. Still, this is a minor quibble with the look of the movie. The weaknesses of the film are the story, the jokes are fun, the characters are well drawn and the backgrounds are excellent. I laughed several times but I did not quite get that heat warming feeling at the end that the story tellers were clearly shooting for. Maybe that’s because we are being asked to identify with snails, and most of us, regardless of how slug like we behave, still think snails are icky.