The two biggest problems with Turbo, the latest animation from Dreamworks, both revolve around a word that is fatal to the success of a film: boring. The first is a surface problem, in that snails are boring. They are boring creatures, regardless of whether you pimp their shells or inject them with nitroglycerine. So a film in which the main character is a snail is onto a loser already. They are especially boring to look at, amorphous blobs of flesh with shells plonked on top that have to be jazzed up by the animators by making them all different colours. Only, the animators didn’t go that far in that each of the snails are just one colour, not dappled and slimy like the invertebrates in Epic. No, these are just smooth splodges of purple and orange with googly eyes tacked on. One of them has a moustache made of moss. This painful want of inventiveness becomes particularly problematic when the design of the humans is similarly uninspired, resulting in a film where not one single character holds your attention visually. In spite of using the latest animation technology, it’s an aesthetically dull film and far less interesting to the eye than A Bug’s Life or Antz, which work at a similar scale but were released well over a decade ago. This boringness suggests laziness, which is disheartening to see in animation.
The second boring aspect of Turbo, a thoroughly soporific film, is the story, which involves a plucky outsider wanting to compete above his league in a racing tournament. This is the same plot as Planes. He does this in order to save a run down area of shops run by some stereotypes by bringing business back. This is the same plot as Cars. When you mix the plots of Planes and Cars, two of the most snooze-inducing animations of the 21st Century, the result is a dull, thudding familiarity lacking any conviction. There are a few good jokes, mostly involving crows, but at the end of the day it’s difficult to enjoy a film that is about a snail saving a taco stand. Once again I return to this one word that summarises the film best: boring. Boring, boring, boring.
Everything about Planes feels cheap and lazy. The animation looks like a TV cartoon you may find on CBeebies (US readers, google a show called Kerwhizz for reference), with no sense of texture or detail to the landscapes and characters. The character animation in particular is woeful, stiff mouths barely reflecting the dialogue being spoken. It is even lazier narratively than it is aesthetically, cobbling together elements of Cars and Cars 2 to create the story of a plucky young plane who wants to race round the world in spite of just being a crop duster (who is he dusting crops for?). He follows his dream, races round the world and – spoilers! – wins. It’s a tension free, repetitive story with a grumpy old timer as a coach thrown in for good measure. The world building makes no sense and is inconsistent, which is more likely to irk adults than children but reinforces the sense that very little thought has gone into creating the world and film. Then there’s the action, which never really soars in the way it could or should. If you think of flying scenes in How To Train Your Dragon or Porco Rosso, you quickly realise how lacklustre this effort is. It may be just for kids, and this skews towards the under-10s, but that isn’t really an adequate excuse. A good film is a good film whoever it is aimed at, and My Neighbour Totoro – made with five year olds in mind – is one of the best films ever and a testament to this.
‘IT’S NOT PIXAR!!!’ a legion of dedicated lamp-fans cry every time someone mistakenly describes Planes as made by the same studio that created Cars, which this is a spin-off of. It’s distressing to think that the studio responsible for the ingenuity of Monsters, Inc and Wall-E could lower themselves to a spin off of their worst franchise. And sure enough, this isn’t Pixar but ‘DisneyToons,’ an offshoot of Disney responsible for their DTDVD sequels. However, one name is emblazoned over the end credits as exec producer, story by and writer: John Lasseter. The man who led Pixar in its glory days, decried sequels and spearheaded the attempted resurrection of their hand drawn department, is the man who is in charge of the weakest theatrical animation of the last five years, a spin off featuring low grade CG and a plot rehashed from Cars and Cars 2, which also rank among the worst things Lasseter has put his name to. It’s lazy and boring enough to make you forget that the man was once a trailblazer and ingenious storyteller. It may not be Pixar, but it is, to an extent, a John Lasseter film, and that’s upsetting enough.