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Turbo: The Death of Animation

Turbo the Death of Animation

Turbo is a film about a snail who races in the Indy 500 against human beings in cars. If that does not sate your interest (or spoil it) enough, read on for one animator’s opinion of this train-wreck of a movie, and our industry as a whole.

Editor’s Note: When I began writing, it was to pen a review of the film “Turbo.” Along the way I realized this article became much more of an editorial than a review, so I decided to change the main category of it and run with the concept.

It pains me to write negative reviews. I like being a positive person, and I feel the world is a better place when we leave negativity at the doorstep. It is even more difficult for me to write negative reviews about animation, because as an animator I KNOW, first hand, how much effort and love goes into producing something that is only on screen for six seconds. I feel terrible about telling anyone, even indirectly, that their work was not worth the effort or was lacking.

I also think it is vital, as artists, to look critically at our industry and the work others (and ourselves) produce. It benefits us ALL, because if we can learn from difficulties or mistakes in the animation around us, we can improve what we do which only leads to a healthier, better collection of future works. So I turn this critical eye to Dreamworks’ Turbo, and hope that this review can lead many animators towards a better future film of their own creation down the road.

Screen from Turbo

Turbo was a disaster of a film. It was the nutritional equivalent of fast food: While you’re eating it seems tasty enough, and yet afterward you clutch your grease-logged stomach and ask “What have I done?” I want to sob over the fact that this is one of the poster children for our industry today. This is what animation has become? It is hard for me to not consider the death of the industry itself when I sit through the 10 minutes of auto-tuned “Wow that snail is fast!” muzak as the credits roll. Name after name after name of people who tried (hopefully) their very best but were behind something that was a terrible idea from the start. People who likely feel helpless as cogs in a machine. Being the best cogs they can, but with no real power.

Animator Kevan Shorey recently said (not about Turbo, but regarding animating at a large studio):

“As one of the little guys, all I can do is concentrate on making the work within my purview as good as it can be. What happens, happens.”

I feel that this is the rationale of an entire community of animators, working their hardest but fueling a giant machine that is being steered by executives who have no idea what makes a great movie. Very few of these animators will candidly say “I thought a film about a snail on drugs winning the Indy 500 was a terrific idea.” Yet their choice is to produce that film or be out of a normal, reasonable job. And so they do their best. Or at least the best they can given their deadlines and cooperate limitations, until they burn out and don’t even care anymore.

Tito and Turbo

Is the animation industry dead?

No. It’s clearly alive and well. Ask me, though, “is the animation industry sick?” My answer changes to absolutely. I really feel that if we continue down this path of forced sequels (a whole OTHER editorial) and cliche, terrible stories it will be the slow, sad death of the animated film as a whole. Once animation was needed to whisk you away to lands you couldn’t dream of in “regular” film. Now, thanks to CG and a whole new breed of ultra-realistic animators, that need is slowly becoming unnecessary. The worlds that were once impossible without pencils and reams of dash-dot-dash punched paper are now a reality through technology.

If we keep doing what we’re doing, we’re going to become extinct.

Was Turbo Really That Bad?

I will say this. During the screening I went to, one of the three other families there walked out before the movie was over and didn’t come back.

In the paragraphs above I seem to be extremely critical of the idea behind Turbo. The truth is, the idea could work. Is it a cliche, probably-not-great idea? One could argue that it is. Regardless, it is possible to take a cliche or mediocre concept and still make a fantastic film. The bare-bones of Toy Story is “Toys come to life when humans aren’t around.” This is not a new or novel concept in and of itself. Yet the quality of that film- AS A FILM- is so well done that the so-so idea behind it only adds to a terrific movie, it doesn’t subtract.

Toy Story the First

Turbo, taking the “concept” out for a moment, was bad as a film. The story elements were poorly done. The world was constantly being created and then abandoned. The dialogue was atrocious. The majority of the design was boring. The themes were shoved in your face as though you were stupid and needed reminded every 30 seconds what you were supposed to be learning from this snail’s story. And parts of the animation were honestly lacking

Design Mishaps

This was not a bad movie because it was an animated film about a snail who races in the Indy 500. This was a bad movie because it was a badly made movie on a fundamental level. In a future article we’re going to lay out several of the poor choices specifically so you don’t make them in the future. Because one day, hopefully, it will be YOU calling the shots and deciding what makes the cut. And when that day comes it is my hope that you can learn from things like Turbo and turn away from the profit margins that likely fueled this film to create a lasting masterpiece that, regardless of being animated or not, is an honest to goodness well-crafted film. A film that will be treasured by an audience for decades to come, like so many of the animated films that we all know and love.

A Personal Note

I want to express how important I think it is that we, as animators, support our colleagues and our industry. Truthfully I was not highly anticipating Turbo. If I was not an animator, with the beliefs I hold, I would not have seen it at all. However I think we have a responsibility to others and ourselves to see these films being made, good or bad, and learn everything we can from them. So if you have not seen Turbo, I say to you in all honesty, it is absolutely worth the $6 to go to your local theater and watch it. Not for entertainment, but as a vast lesson of possibilities, successes, and failures. We all have an idea for a film or story. Turbo made it to theaters, and chances are your idea and my idea have not yet. Turbo’s time for improvement has passed, but we still have much work to do. Do yourself, and our industry, a favor and get to your local theater, fork over your $6, and experience the movie someone else made in the way they intended for you to see it. If we all do this, one day when it is your movie on that silver screen, we will all as an animation community be in line to see it, win or lose.

Let’s stick together.

Did you see Turbo? What did you think?
Did you avoid seeing Turbo? Why?
Join in the conversation below and leave a comment! Let’s start a dialogue so we can build a better animation industry.

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18 comments

  1. Sabina K says:

    I like to show new animated movies to my mom and on ‘Turbo’ she fell asleep. Literally.
    What really worried me was the number of unnecessary characters they added and the fact that only one of them had character development ( and it even wasn’t the main character but his brother!) While the first part of the movie set in a snail world was decent, after Turbo gets his powers the movie is getting worse.

    • J.K. Riki says:

      Agreed. And even Chet’s “transformation” into believing in his brother seemed instantaneous and forced. The ENTIRE film he complained about how Theo/Turbo was dreaming an impossible dream, and then in the final 5 minutes he switched to “I believe in you.” It made no sense, really. It wasn’t natural development at all.

  2. Joshua K. says:

    But..but..it’s CGI. CGI movies are always successful, soo unlike that flat 2d thing no one wants to watch anymore.

    • J.K. Riki says:

      I know, right? It’s… almost like bad films don’t do well regardless of the medium they’re produced in! But that’s madness. This must just be a fluke, back to mass-producing CGI films!!

      :)

  3. badgerfodder says:

    It costs $6 to go to the cinema where you are? Consider yourself lucky – it’s more like $16 where I am. Unfortunately this isn’t a new phenomenon. For every great Dreamworks animation, they churn out 3 by-the-numbers kids films. As long as it keeps making money, they aren’t going to stop.

    • J.K. Riki says:

      IMAX 3D is about $16 here, but I tend to watch films in good-old 2D. :) I also went during the day, which cuts the cost down a bit as well. I’m trying to decide, if it HAD been $16, would I still feel it was worth it? I think probably yes, because I really did learn a LOT from the mistakes of this movie. It was worth seeing for the passion and drive it fired up in me to go out there and do better.

  4. marty says:

    Anyone could see it was going to suck from the trailers, I don’t know why you wasted money on going to see it. It just supports Dreamworks making dog **** like this.

  5. Goose says:

    @marty- He SAID it was worth going to see, did you not even bother to read the article?? It says right there it is not only important to support fellow animators (not DREAMWORKS, but the people they EMPLOY who are animators like us!) and also it is important to learn from films like this. Was it a good movie? No I guess not. Which is why if you watch it to learn from you can find many good lessons. It’s like you just came onto the website and started complaining and did not even read what the article said. I hate when people do that because it shows that you didn’t even take the time to read what someone else wrote and yet you expect people to pay attention to what YOU have to say? You need to think before you post, and more importantly READ before you post. I bet you’re some 12 year old who thinks he knows everything aren’t you? Don’t be stupid, and grow up. Plus you can’t always tell if a movie will be good from a trailer. There have been plenty of great trailers for movies that end up being really bad. Its like the saying You can’t judge a book by its cover. You can’t judge a movie from its trailer.

    I did not see Turbo and probly will not in theaters but I’ll get it from Redbox because I try to see every animated movie because that’s what I want to MAKE and if we don’t know what is out there we can’t make something new that people will enjoy.

  6. J.K. Riki says:

    Thanks for the comments, Marty and Goose! Marty, I understand your point of view. You’re right that ticket sales only help Dreamworks to make more films, whether they are like this or like How to Train Your Dragon (which I thought was excellent). And I think Goose makes a good point as well: “Dreamworks” is just the company name. It is made up of a lot of people, many who are animators, and I want to help support those fellow artists. So while that means I have to sit through something like Turbo, it’s important to remember that the ANIMATORS were doing their very best with what they were given to work with. And they did a great job for the most part, so kudos to them. :)

    The important thing is we all do our best. And hopefully when we do, we make great films! :)

  7. Alex says:

    “The message of the film, as with so many other kid-inspirational cartoons and other fantasies, is that no dream is too big, you can do anything if you set your mind to it, etc., etc. Unfortunately, the real embedded lesson of Turbo is that, if you’re too small or weak or otherwise incapable of greatness, you have a shot to win if you’re juiced.”

  8. Brain Tartino says:

    Great article with a point of view that covers what we see a lot in animation but with a better more positive perspective. I couldn’t agree more than we as animators should go out and see the films the big companies release, which will only improve our own works. I have yet to see Turbo myself but I did go to see Monsters U even though I was not too thrilled to do so. It was alright. Seemed like a typical college movie but with Monsters.

  9. archie says:

    There are some intriguing points in this write-up but I don’t know if it will change anything. The whole industry seems very focused on money and set it their ways. :(

  10. LazyBoy says:

    No, the future of animated feature is definitely not in the hands of the animators, artists and writers. It’s in the audience’s.

    By going to the theater and paying for their ticket, they decide what will be the next movie in the theater. Why producers only fund CG movies that can be watch by kids or all the family? Because that’s what makes the money. CG movie with pointless characters with ‘tude face and stupid puns on the poster and over-over-over-used songs like “Eye of the Tiger” in the trailer? People always want to watch that. Even movies like Coraline get their horrible ‘tude pose posters.

    But if Turbo bombs, despite of all these “magical-ingredients-of-success”, that’s a good thing, showing that the audience may, at last, get bored of the same recipe.

    Still, even for great features like Kung Fu Panda 2 we have these cr*ppy posters and song in the trailer. Is there a CG movie that cannot be a family comedy today? The Kung Fu Panda movies are more than that to me but they made these “hey heeey kids, that’s a goofy movie right here!! he’s gonna get hit in the cr*tch with a cheesy choice for a song that your parents already heard a million times!” trailers. Why? Because, again, that’s what the audience call “appealing”.

    Even if they go to the theater and then say “that’s like usual, but still be a good entertainment”, this shows that even if they know they’re going to watch a already-saw movie, they’re still willing to pay for it, which is great for the producers, but not for animation.

    Maybe one day the audience will stop considering animation as fast-food movies but as art and will ask for more creativity and originality and for more mature animated feature but right now if they go watch an mature feature, it’s only because it’s about politics and that the newspapers told them to watch them … because of the politics.

    (I’m not against these movies but I loved “The Suicide Shop” but it had tough critiques because it’s politically incorrect to joke about suicides. If they would have put some more politically-correct stuff then you would have newspapers saying “OMG this movie is great because it has a niiiiice message in it!!”. This movie is actually an ode to life, but that’s not “correct” enough apparently.)

    Anyway, on a conclusion: If you don’t want to see more movies like Turbo in the future, just don’t encourage people to go to the theater to watch it and give their money to Jeffrey Katzenberg, who actually seems to be more interested in politics (and the business opportunities that creates) rather than animation.

    Maybe firing another 400 employees will help him making his mind?

  11. John H. says:

    It makes me sick that executives are getting rich off trash like this. I want to support the animators like you said but I don’t think they get any of the money. The rich just get richer.

  12. Mark Borok says:

    We’ve all seen how animators profit from successful movies. I might see it on Netflix, but life is short and I could spend that time working on my own skills. The trailer for this movie, like the one for The Croods and Epic, did not give me any reason to see this film. I don’t recall there being any hint of suspense. Snail wants to race, he somehow becomes fast, he wins the race. OK. That’s nice. Good for him. The thing about “epic” though, which I also didn’t see, is that it was based on a very nice children’s book that I found very touching. It was the opposite of an epic story. The fact that they had to turn something like that into a brash, action-packed thrill ride (judging by the trailer) is an atrocity and a good illustration of the fact that Hollywood has a one-track mind and cannot conceive of any other kind of picture, even when the source material is different.

  13. Dana says:

    There is a TV show now too did you know? Ha, I would like to see you review that!

  14. Jeffrey says:

    Movie was garbage.

  15. mogs says:

    i dont see you doing any better. hypocrite.