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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