Movie Review: It is Turbo Time

This was written by someone outside of The Stampede staff — Gail Parambi

Movie Review: It is Turbo Time

Gail Parambi, Outside Writer

Here’s how my weekend went: I finished some homework, read half of a book, and scrolled indecisively through Netflix for ten minutes before discovering that the great gods of the catalogue had reinstated the 2013 DreamWorks film Turbo

Now, I might be wrong (I sure hope I am) but for most people, this isn’t an item of great importance. After all, the movie scored a solid 67% on Rotten Tomatoes; it is not the studio’s worst film, but neither is it a standout in any ‘objective’ artistic way.That being said, I love it and, prior to this most recent viewing, I have seen it upwards of five times (all during the course of seventh grade if I remember correctly). 

For my non-Turboheads, the movie is about (spoilers to follow) a snail named Theo who has always wanted to be fast. He lives in a garden with his brother Chet, who disapproves immensely of Theo’s racing dreams, until a freak accident involving a tomato, a lawnmower, a crow, and a street race turns the snail into a speed demon, capable of activating reserves of nitrous oxide and moving at speeds exceeding 200 miles per hour. Theo and Chet take up residency at a taco joint in a run-down strip mall, whose owners discover Theo’s abilities during their nightly snail races; the two garden snails meet a coterie of modded-out molluscs (one of which is voiced by Snoop Dogg; this is not pertinent information, per se, but it is necessary). The group convinces the strip mall business owners to take a road trip to the Indianapolis 500, where Theo qualifies for competition. He meets his hero, Guy Gagne, and discovers that the veteran racer may not be what he seems. In a nail-biting finish, Theo (who has taken on the performance name ‘Turbo’) crosses the finish line ahead of Gagne “by a shell”, but in the violence of the race burns himself out. The gang returns to the strip mall, where Theo’s shell heals and his speed returns. The goal of this article is to then analyze some of these events in the context of their function. What does Turbo bring to the table as a text? What tractates does it suggest? Also, I need to practice thinking about things so that I’m not taken by surprise by next semester’s AP Literature research project.

Theo’s ultimate goal, all his short little snail life, has been to be fast. Fast, however, isn’t what ends up winning the Indy 500. Theo crosses the line seconds before Gagne steps over it due to a combination of willpower, gastropodic characteristics, and sheer luck; still, the victory is the emotional climax of the movie. Beating Gagne and winning the Indy 500, which heretofore had been synonymous with speed, lose their significance as metrics by which to judge Theo’s acquisition of velocity. To win the race, Theo has to beat the bad Guy. Neither of these items refer back to empirically faster performance anymore. The race cannot be won by being ‘objectively’ fast (as in, fast enough to qualify based on historic conceptions of speed in the venue) because Guy initiates a ten-way car crash that blocks off the track. Instead, perseverance through pain takes on the role of the decisive criterion. As such the victory rings hollow, a simulacrum of speed. That which used to signify a categorical reference point for Theo, a marker of what was truly fast, no longer has any relation to the quality; it is Baudrillard’s rendition of Borges’ map of the underlying reality, a reality that has disintegrated and left only its imitators.

But when does the need for speed become kin with the win? Turbo suggests that authenticity is the driving force, shifting the gears of the narrative. The way it delineates authenticity, too, is interesting. Turbo is only capable of defining authenticity in its absence and affirming its presence thereafter. It perceives the positive construct of inauthenticity before anything else. It is a lower order of sign, because its unreality is understood, but it is a sign nonetheless. Consider Guy. Before the main ensemble first contacts him, he is a paragon of positivity. On television, he plays the part of motivational sports figure with poise and charm. In competition, he is a trophy-chasing back-stabber whose veneer–not what lies beneath, but the varnish itself–reveals itself in staged displays of affection for the mollusk protagonist. Only after performances of forced affinity does Gagne’s true nature come to light. It’s all in a name: our Guy will do anything pour gagner

The idea that the gleam of fakery may not necessarily signify by its presence a rotten core is a remarkably open-minded concept. Where Gagne hides an amoral, ends-focused temperament, Theo conceals his snailhood: the behaviors and acts that characterize his lineage. During the race, he imitates the ways in which the cars circle around the track and finds himself rapidly losing ground. On repair time, one of the other snails hypes him up, telling him to “snail up!”, i.e. utilize his small size and adhesive capabilities to his advantage. Pretending to be a car is not an attempt to paint over weakness or evil. It simply hides some of the undeniable aspects of life as a snail, aspects that ultimately contribute to Theo’s victory. 

Authenticity is an immutable facet of an individual’s nature, according to Turbo. That nature, however, is independent of outside moral judgment. Snails are categorically slow; in Turbo (of whose zoological accuracy I am uncertain but hopeful) they use the technique of tucking and rolling to escape threats and achieve speed their monopedal could not. When Chet tries to assign a positive value to Theo’s intrinsic lack of speed, this is portrayed as bad. It harms Theo and denies his fundamental ability to become fast. When Theo assigns a negative value to tucking and rolling as cowardly, he certainly does not foresee it becoming the mode by which he wins the Indy 500. In this way, Turbo affirms the neutrality of individual essence.

While Turbo’s presence in the cultural consciousness is not as loud as that of its contemporaries, the movie holds a special place in my heart. At its core, it’s a sports movie (featuring a remix if Eye of the Tiger! And a dubstep remix of the words “Wow! That snail is fast!”) about a fast snail that captured my soul and imagination. What could be more extreme than that?