From the makers of Madagascar, Kung Fu Panda and The Croods, Turbo is a high-velocity 3D comedy about an underdog snail whose dreams kick into overdrive when he miraculously attains the power of super-speed. But after making fast friends with a crew of streetwise, tricked-out es-car-goes, Turbo learns that no one succeeds on their own. So he puts his heart and shell on the line to help his pals achieve their dreams, before Turbo-charging his own impossible dream: winning the Indy 500.
Turbo is a little guy with big dreams. Not satisfied with living life at a snail's pace, he has a powerful and resolute need for speed. Turbo trains tirelessly, measuring his progress with a yard stick. (His new record: covering the 36-inch-long "track"... in 17 minutes.) Turbo's single-minded goal is to compete in the greatest race in the world: the Indy 500.
When we meet Turbo, he's somewhat of an outcast in the snail community, which is less about big dreams and more about punching a time clock at their place of employment (and principal source of nourishment) - the [tomato] "plant". Turbo's brother Chet, whose credo is, safety first, last and only, shares the community's insistence on a snail-paced routine. Chet loves his brother, but he is concerned that Turbo's obsession with all things fast could lead to disaster - or worse!
Leaving the plant behind, Turbo begins his journey to fulfil his dreams when he is swept from a freeway overpass onto the hood of a sports car and is then propelled into the muscle car's air intake valve. Explosive nitrous oxide charges every atom of Turbo's body, altering his molecular structure. The freak accident infuses Turbo with incredible speed - he can reach 200 miles per hour - and he now blazes across the streets of Los Angeles like a neon bullet.
But even a turbo-charged Turbo can't accomplish miracles on his own. Luckily, fate intervenes again, when Turbo and Chet are captured by Tito, the co-proprietor (with his brother Angelo) of a Van Nuys, California-based taco stand. Tito's sideline - and his true passion - is pitting snails against one another in not-so-fast-and-furious racing competitions.
At the race's home base, the Starlight Plaza, Turbo meets the "Racing Snails", a ragtag group with shells that look like mini-street racing cars. Their pimped-out exteriors are complemented by their trash-talking personalities.
The Racing Snails make fast friends with Turbo and together they begin a journey of adventure, bonding and family.
Turbo, says director and co-screenwriter David Soren, is a mash-up of superhero and racing film genres, but "at its heart, Turbo really is an underdog story. The character Turbo has all the hallmarks of an underdog. You expect nothing of snails, whose lives are stacked with obstacles, like being really, really slow. But once you dig into it, a snail is the perfect character to have at the center of an underdog story".
But turning an everyday, garden snail into a mighty mollusk who travels at super-speed? "Turbo's dream of becoming something that's completely in opposition to its nature is ripe for conflict, surprises and a satisfying payoff" when the dream becomes reality", says Soren.
Soren came up with the idea for Turbo almost a decade ago. He described it to DreamWorks Animation management at one of the company's "pitch program" conclaves, at which DreamWorks employees can pitch their ideas for possible future projects.
As he developed the idea, Soren was inspired by events and people very close to home. His primary muse, he notes, "was my young son, who since before he could talk has been obsessed with toy cars and racing and could identify virtually any car on the street by its make and model".
Soren also found motivation in his own front yard, which had a "snail problem" that was eating away at his tomato plants. "This marriage of the slow [the snails] and speed [his son's preoccupation] was the catalyst that led me to the bones of the story centered on a snail who dreams of racing glory".
As work continued on the script (written by Soren and Darren Lemke and Robert Siegel), the filmmakers began the lengthy casting process, beginning with their titular hero. Having imbued Turbo with characteristics that encompassed being an underdog, superhero and relatable comic figure, Soren certainly didn't make things easy for himself. Luckily, the requisite comedic and dramatic acting chops and bigger-than-life persona, are embodied by Ryan Reynolds, whom Soren describes as "the perfect match" for Turbo.
Before he signed on, the actor, who was finishing work on DreamWorks Animation's The Croods, was pitched the story's concept by company chief Jeffrey Katzenberg and director David Soren. "Jeffrey pitched the idea about this character who has an impossible dream of winning the Indy 500", Reynolds remembers. "I asked, 'What's impossible about that?' And he said, 'Turbo's a snail.' And I said, 'That's impossible!'"
"But it all really sounded amazing and I fell in love with its classic underdog story, which Turbo takes to a new level", Reynolds continues. "It takes a unique if not insane perspective to bring a snail to life in this way. What I love most about Turbo is his tenacity and refusal to give up on his dream. In fact, it doesn't even occur to him to give up. Talent is a collision between hard work and luck and that's what Turbo is".
Reynolds' take on the character was in sync with Soren's conception of Turbo. "Turbo's defining characteristic is that he doesn't ever want to give up", says the director. "His dream is ludicrous and yet he continues to make it happen. The stroke of luck Turbo has in acquiring super-speed isn't the solution to his problems and it's not what makes Turbo, Turbo. It's his persistence. And that's something that seems to land with audiences on a personal level".
Bringing such a well-defined and rich character to life was a process and exploration that happened over time. Soren notes that Turbo's brother Chet is another catalyst that helped define Turbo. "The movie is called Turbo, but it's very much a story of two snail brothers -- Turbo and Chet", he explains. "Turbo is the dreamer and Chet is a realist. [Another set of brothers - taco truck owners Tito and Angelo - is also central to the Turbo-Chet dynamic; more on the two-legged "dos bros", later.]
Chet is Turbo's older brother and polar opposite. Overly cautious and always practical, Chet's number one priority is keeping his brother safe, but Turbo seems hell-bent on thwarting Chet's caution-first ways. To protect Turbo, Chet feels he must discourage his brother from dreaming his impossible dreams. He wants him to fall in line with his snail brethren and slog away at the Tomato Plant. Chet is a respected member of the snail community, of which Turbo remains an outcast.
Again, Soren found himself creating a role for which there were no easily apparent casting solutions. "It's a challenging part in that Chet, who thinks he has Turbo's best interests at heart and always wants to protect his brother, is overbearing, at times to a stifling degree", he says. "We know it would take a special kind of talent to make Chet be as much fun as the Racing Snails".
So what else could Soren do but to turn to someone he calls, "one of the greatest actors of our generation" - Paul Giamatti. "Paul can do no wrong", says the filmmaker, who notes that Chet is not unlike the ever-argumentative characters Giamatti essayed in the acclaimed films Sideways and Win Win. "Paul has this unique ability to be likable even as he's trying to hold people back", says Soren. "It's a very rare gift".
Giamatti's casting was also inspired by Soren's love of films about underdogs, like Rocky, Karate Kid, Rudy and most of all, Breaking Away. "I've seen Breaking Away twenty times and dissected it from beginning to end trying to figure out how they captured such character-based magic", Soren admits. In that film, Paul Dooley plays the well-meaning father who disapproves of his son's (Dennis Christopher) obsession with Italian cycling races. "That was really the inspiration for the dynamic between Turbo and Chet and when I first met with Paul [Giamatti] I talked with him about Breaking Away and when I mentioned the character of the father, Paul immediately understood what I was talking about and ran with that".
Reynolds and Giamatti further explored their on-screen brotherhood during a rare opportunity to record some scenes together, at a session in New York City. "It was great to get them facing off in a room together", notes producer Lisa Stewart. "Working together, they were able to take the characters even deeper".
Turbo's other key relationship is with the collective known as the Racing Snails, who ultimately serve as his pit crew at the Indy 500.
The Racing Snails are: Whiplash, Smoove Move, Burn, Skidmark and White Shadow.
Unlike the super-powered Turbo, the group is made up of your everyday, garden- variety mollusks. But these adrenaline junkies, like Turbo, insist on living life in the fast lane. What they lack in speed, they make up for with their ingenious methods of winning races - a unique style of parkour in which they luge down rain gutters, parachute off telephone poles and zip-line across power lines. The characters' combination of humor, inventiveness and heart make them the most unforgettable pit crew in the history of racing.
The Racing Snails are much more than comic relief. "They embody exactly what Turbo stands for, which is not allowing your limitations to hold back your dreams", notes Soren. "And with that philosophy, they live very fulfilling lives. As Turbo's pit crew, they help him fulfill his destiny, which is to embrace who he is and where he comes from".
Before Turbo arrived on the scene, the leader and reigning champ of the Racing Snails was Whiplash. To be a member of Whiplash's crew, you must earn his respect and until you do, you'll never experience the real Whiplash - a warm, jovial guy who treats his crew like family.
Samuel L. Jackson portrays Whiplash. The Academy Award® nominee says he "wanted to bring a sense of bravado and gravitas" to the character, exemplified in a thunderous pep talk to Turbo delivered during the film's climax. "Whiplash speaks to Turbo as a coach and leader and encourages him to be his best", says Jackson. "And that includes getting his attention when need be. Whiplash's and the entire crew's job is to give Turbo a sense of toughness, self-awareness and backbone".
Like many of the filmmakers, Jackson embraced the film's take on an underdog story. "Everybody loves an underdog and what can be more of an underdog than a snail competing in the Indy 500? At the same time, when you tell people you're making a movie about racing snails, you'll get the 'For real?' response, because one doesn't go with the other. But when you watch Turbo, you go, 'Okay, all right, I could let my mind go with this.'"
Soren notes of Jackson's casting: "When you have Sam Jackson in your movie, you know you're going to get amazing energy from him and Whiplash was the perfect character in which to harness it".
Another Racing Snail, Smoove Move, is portrayed by legendary singer/rapper/songwriter/actor Snoop Dogg. Smoove is a super-cool low-rider with a blinged-out shell. He has a unique perspective on even the craziest twists and turns of Turbo's adventures.
Soren wrote the character with Snoop in mind. "I wanted each of the Racing Snails to have a distinct personality and visual traits, he explains. "Snoop does the Zen-like, laid-back type so well and I kept hearing his voice as I was writing Smoove".
The sole distaff member of the crew is Burn, who has no trouble holding her own amidst her testosterone-fueled, speed-worshiping teammates. Sly and sassy and always chewing gum, Burn hides her soft side under a hard outer shell (adorned with shooting flames). SNL icon Maya Rudolph portrays Burn.
Soren says one of the initial inspirations for Burn came, in part, from a character from the classic '70s/'80s sitcom Happy Days - the super-cool, Demolition Derby-loving, perpetually gum-chewing, Pinky Tuscadero. Soren explains: "Once we cast Maya, we looked at a lot of her work from Saturday Night Live and we particularly liked a gum-chewing character she played in the show. That led to the Pinky Tuscadero connection and that's how Burn came together".
Burn holds a torch for Turbo's brother Chet, with whom she immediately feels some major heat. "She's very forward", says Rudolph, "and doesn't get a chance to meet many outsiders, so Chet's arrival on the scene is a big deal for her".
Another Racing Snail, Skidmark, is a master of trashtalk and serves as Whiplash's feisty #2. His shell is souped-up like a dragster and he's prone to making long skidding noises. Ben Schwartz, who stars in the hit Showtime series House of Lies, takes on the role, to which he brought, says Soren, some mad ad-libbing skills.
Then there's White Shadow. Full of false bravado and real laughs, White Shadow considers himself to be "fast, like a shadow" - ignoring the fact that shadows aren't inherently fast. A former DreamWorks Animation storyboard artist named Michael Patrick Bell had done the temp voice, in a hulking basso profundo style and he was so effective in the role that a short-term gig became a co-starring role.
Another team - this one human -becomes an integral part of Turbo's journey. Meet the colorful shop owners of the rundown Starlight Plaza in Los Angeles' San Fernando Valley, who become reluctant and then fervent backers of Turbo's quest to race in the Indy 500.
The Starlight Plaza team broadens the film's world, says Soren. "We begin in the snail universe and the film's scope and visuals gradually expand to encompass a much more expansive environment".
The leader of this group is Tito, who is co-owner, with his brother Angelo, of a struggling taco business they call Dos Bros Tacos. Tito's true passion rests not with ground meat and tortillas, but with the snail races he hosts along with his fellow shop owners at the Starlight Plaza, as a means to gain exposure for their businesses. "Tito loves life and adventure", says Michael Peña (World Trade Center), who plays the taco-preneur. Like Turbo, Tito harbours big dreams. "His slogan for the events, which he hopes will also spur the taco business, is 'You come for the snail racing and you stay for the chimichangas.'"
It is Tito who brings Turbo into his world of strip mall snail racing - and ultimately helps propel him on the journey to Indy 500 glory. It all begins when Tito traps Chet and Turbo and, intending them to be his newest snail racing competitors, transports them to the Starlight Plaza. Tito is clueless that he's captured lightning (as in lightning-fast) in a bottle.
When Turbo zooms into Tito's life at 200 miles per hour, Tito is inspired and the two kindred spirits head off to chase their impossible dreams. Each has a disapproving brother with a more grounded view of life. Chet's counterpart is Tito's older brother Angelo, a taco-maker who implores Tito to stop with the snail races and just "sell some tacos!"
"Angelo is just trying to run a business", says veteran character actor Luis Guzmán, who takes on the role. "He takes great pride in his tacos and just getting Tito to focus is a job in itself. Tito has a good heart and he has dreams. Angelo has dreams, too, but his are less about racing snails than they are of selling thousands of tacos".
The parallel brother stories provide additional humor and heart, as well as some inventive visuals - like when Turbo and Tito are simultaneous trying to sell their doubting brothers on the idea of Turbo competing in the Indy 500. "That's my favorite scene in the film", Soren admits. Producer Lisa Stewart is similarly enthused about the character of Tito, which she calls one of her favorites, "because he starts from a place of unbridled optimism and he ends in the same place. It's impossible not to love him".
And Peña has perhaps the most passionate take on the character: "I acted in Turbo for selfish reasons", he notes. "I mean, who doesn't want to be their kid's hero?"
The senior member of the Starlight Plaza group is Kim Ly, a cantankerous and elderly nail salon owner who doesn't mince words. Her expert manicurist skills come in handy when, as a member of Turbo's pit crew, she paints, buffs and polishes Turbo's racing shell.
"Kim Ly is menacing, but mostly adorable", says Ken Jeong (The Hangover Trilogy), who's anything but typecast as an elderly woman. "She has a little bit of a mean streak and can talk smack with the best of them". Kim and the other shop owners bankroll Turbo's trip to Indianapolis, hoping to cash in when he crosses the finish line. But by journey's end, "she really cares about Turbo and the rest of the crew", says Jeong.
About his unexpected casting as an aged Vietnamese woman, Jeong says that when he saw the film, "Somehow it just fit!" But Soren knew he had the right actor for the part after watching Jeong on a national talk show. "He was imitating his mother and mother-in-law and he sounded like an elderly woman", Soren remembers. "And I said to myself, 'That's Kim Ly.' I talked to Ken about it and he loves the fact that he's sort of channeling his mother-in-law for the role".
An equally tough, though considerably younger member of the Starlight Plaza ensemble is Paz, who owns and runs an auto repair shop. Street-smart and scrappy, Paz's passion is cars and she's put every penny she has into the garage. She's sharp, has a dry sense of humor and prefers to cut to the chase.
Michelle Rodriguez, who has starred in several of the Fast and Furious films, portrays Paz. Her connection to that blockbuster franchise and casting in Turbo is no coincidence, according to Soren. "It's absolutely an homage to my love of those movies and a way for us to capture a little part of them and show our respect for them. Michelle has a great voice - distinct and raspy and perfect for Paz".
The Starlight Plaza crew's Bobby is the owner of one of the most underrated (and unfrequented) hobby shops in the San Fernando Valley. He's a gifted model maker and the chief designer of the Racing Snails' shells. Oscar®-nominated actor Richard Jenkins (The Visitor) is Bobby.
Providing a sharp contrast to the every man qualities of the Starlight Plaza ensemble is racing superstar and egomaniac Guy (rhymes, appropriately enough with "Me") Gagné, a French-Canadian and five-time Indy 500 champ. Guy comes across as an eccentric yet charismatic charmer, but he's really a competitive narcissist who will do anything to win. He's all speed and no heart.
When we meet Turbo, he is Guy's number-one fan - watching tapes of his idol's racing triumphs and interviews over and over again, while slurping the toxic energy drink Guy endorses. Guy - or at least, his public image - inspires Turbo, until the two come face-to-face (if snails had faces, that is) at the Indy 500, where Guy reveals his true nature.
"Guy is the greatest race car driver in the world and he's happy to remind you of that fact", says SNL's Bill Hader, who takes on the role. "I'm always looking for new challenges and I've never played a French-Canadian race car driver, or used that accent", jokes Hader, no stranger to offbeat characters like SNL's nightclub "correspondent" Stefon, chain-smoking Italian talk show host Vinny Vedeci and game show host Vince Blight.
Soren notes that a French-Canadian accent is not easily replicated, one of several reasons he called upon Hader. "Bill came in and literally the character that you hear on screen came out his mouth fully formed". That's high praise from Soren, who is Canadian, but Hader admits to researching accents on YouTube before his reading for Soren.
To ensure authenticity and maximum impact for Turbo's high-velocity Indy 500 scenes, the filmmakers turned to some of the racing world's most iconic figures. Four-time IZOD IndyCar Series Champion and three-time Indianapolis 500-winner, Dario Franchitti was the primary racing consultant. The legendary Mario Andretti and the high-profile drivers Helio Castroneves and Will Power also provided invaluable input.
"They were instrumental in helping us make our on-screen Indy 500 feel as authentic as possible", says Soren. "I felt strongly that replicating a real race was essential to upping the stakes for Turbo. And, since our story concept is obviously far-fetched, I wanted to make everything around that idea believable and real. So that was where having racing consultants was especially helpful".
Adds Lisa Stewart: "One of our big challenges was getting audiences to suspend their disbelief and go on this journey with Turbo. So we made sure to place our characters in a world that was authentic".
Soren says that his conversations with Franchitti were especially enlightening. "We talked about Dario's first time racing an Indy car, how he got into racing and the emotions involved in a driver's first big race", he recalls. "The character of Turbo is having his first race, so it was invaluable to get Dario's take on that experience and have him walk us through the aural and visual experiences that surround a driver".
Although he's no stranger to glamorous and high-profile events and to meticulous preparation, Franchitti was dazzled by the moviemaking process, which he got to experience first-hand. "It was fascinating to see the level of detail that went into the making of Turbo", he enthuses. "I was impressed with David Soren's desire to learn as much as he could about the Indy 500".
Franchitti hopes that the film's depiction of the epic race will lure more new fans. "I think Turbo is going to open Indy up to a whole new audience", he says. "When I saw the passion that everyone has working on the film and for creating the best possible racing sequence, I thought that anyone who sees the film could become a racing fan".
Additionally, the racing sanctioning organization IRL provided access to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and other key events, like the Long Beach Grand Prix. This was important to keep the racing scenes authentic. "Our design team took tens of thousands of photos, covering every inch of these facilities, from textures on the ground to the details of the pit crews, equipment and garages", says Soren.
The filmmakers' quest for racing verisimilitude even extended to ridealongs in modified Indy cars. Donning fire suits and full racing gear, Soren and Stewart, as well as key department heads were strapped into their cars and channeled their inner-Franchitti as they raced around the track at speeds of over 180 miles per hour. "It was thrilling, intense and scary", says Stewart. "And it got a little too adrenalized when my car went spinning at a 270-degree turn and then stalled out. Dear Lord that was terrifying!"
Soren's use of 3D enhances the "you-are-there" thrills of the Indy 500 sequence, as well as the challenges Turbo faces with the cars racing alongside him, which to him are super-powered behemoths. "I also wanted to tackle stereo thematically", says Soren. "Audiences will feel it when Turbo's world opens up and the 3D lets them experience the magic he's feeling".
Beyond the racetrack, Soren also discovered that the 3D enhanced the snails' vulnerability, heightening the vast differences in scale between them and objects and textures surrounding them. "Being down on their level and in their world, with the 3D, really helps the overall effect and engagement with the characters", he explains.
The Turbo team brought a similar authenticity to those other environments, vividly capturing the gone-to-seed vibe of the Starlight Plaza and the workaday world of the Tomato Plant.
The morning garden-path commute to the plant is punctuated by a sudden appearance of a crow swooping in to pick off a hapless snail. It's unfortunate, but all part of the day. They must also deal with non-airborne threats, like a tricycle-riding kid/snail assassin and the dreaded "Gardener Day" and his weapon of choice: a lawnmower and its deadly blades. Upon arrival at the plant, the snails punch in and slowly (what else?) and methodically go about their mundane tomato-harvesting tasks of "pick 'em/sort 'em/eat 'em".
Another key locale, the Starlight Plaza, captures the spirit of the San Fernando Valley in a way not seen before in animated features and most live action pictures. "The beauty of the Turbo production being based in Los Angeles was that all our locations and research were easily accessible", says Soren. "On far-flung shooting locations, filmmakers often have to resort to doing much of their research online, but I strongly encouraged our teams to leave their offices and take photographs all over the Valley. And that makes a huge difference in the movie. It feels much more specific".
One of the final stages of the race to finish Turbo was the intricate sound design created by three-time Academy Award-winner Richard King (The Dark Knight, Inception, Master andCommander: The Far Side of the World). King worked closely with Soren to further define the film's vibrant characters and environments through their sounds. Among their principal challenges was creating Turbo's signature powering-up racing sounds and differentiating them from the terrifying and deafening engines of the thirty-two Indy 500 cars pitted against him.
Soren also employed cutting-edge techniques to create the Indy 500 crowd scenes - 300,000 people strong. (It's the biggest single day sporting event in the world.) "There are more crowds in Turbo than any in animated film history", says the director. To accomplish that, "we devised a system that allowed us to cover huge crowds with relatively low amounts of rendering time, in a way never before possible".
This kind of technical wizardry was always in service of Turbo's colourful characters and classic-with-a-twist underdog tale. "I think audiences will really get behind Turbo's determination and dreams", says Soren. "There's a quality about underdog stories where you just can't help but start rooting for the character, get swept up by them and start rooting for them. And by the end, you're kind of pumped.
"I'm most proud of the fact that Turbo seems to bring a special kind of emotional engagement, satisfaction and investment in the characters".