Animation is a wonderful way to be imaginative, it can take you to places you’ve only dreamed of and further. So why does it seem that the imagination well over at DreamWorks Animation has dried up? They’ve had some wonderfully high-concept ideas in the past (a super-villain who wins, a revisionist fairy tale, a Woody Allen ant) but it seems that a snail who can move fast is really scraping the bottom of the barrel. Theo (Reynolds) is a garden snail who dreams big. His goal in life is to go fast. As luck would have it, he is accidentally sucked into the engine of a car during a street race and comes out as sort of a half snail/half car mutant. Soon he is living the dream by being the first snail ever to enter the Indy 500.
The main problem here is there’s no heart nor soul in the movie. We learn very little about any of the characters apart from a few quirks that make them tick. Like so many of today’s animated movies, the supporting characters are all stereotypes (so much so that you can guess the casting, Michelle Rodriguez as tough Mexican girl, Richard Jenkins as nerdy old white guy and Ken Jeong voicing an elderly female Asian nail salon owner). The only character that seems to resonate is Samuel L. Jackson as Whiplash, a snail who seems to have a few screws loose (when accused of being crazy, he replies with “Of course! What ever made you think I was sane?“) who offers the films most endearing and entertaining moments. Sadly Reynolds is wasted as Theo, not really getting a chance to shine with any interesting lines or vocal choices.
The animation is good, but it feels like we’ve seen it all before. The bright neons of LA and the shine of the chrome from the cars all seems to be borrowed from Cars and sadly, the new addition of snails to the animated world comes up short as the snails don’t really vary in design. There’s nothing new here that makes you gasp with amazement or wonder “How did they do that?” Instead we’re left wondering “Are there any downsides to Theo’s new powers?” and “Will there ever be any sense of jeopardy in the movie?“, and sadly it feels like these are not questions the filmmakers asked themselves. Bizarrely, writer of The Wrestler and Big Fan, Robert Siegel is credited amongst the writers, we can only assume his input was minimal, or perhaps he just showed the rest of the team how to structure an underdog movie.
There are a few giggles to be had, but they are sparse and whilst the little ones might be engaged by bright colours and fast imagery, they’ll probably want to pop in a more engaging film when they get home. Forgettable, bland and run of the mill are not words that we should be describing animation with, but sadly that is all we get here.