Turbo is a light, fun entertainment that should keep kids’ attention without losing their parents’ interest. But watching it, I couldn’t help but flash back to this graphic that a friend of mine posted on Facebook this week.
The representative films for DreamWorks are a bit cherry-picked. There is, for instance, no recognition of the widely-held belief that DreamWorks’ How to Train Your Dragon actually outclasses most of Pixar’s recent efforts. But, you know what? The punchline remains much the same when it comes to Turbo, a totally pleasant but hardly unique or memorable ‘toon.
This time, the animal that thinks it’s people is Theo, a snail who works in a tomato patch somewhere in the San Fernando Valley, toiling away and dreaming of a speedier existence. (And who could blame him? He works in a patch where at least one or two of his co-workers get picked off by swooping crows on a daily basis.) Consequently, he’s obsessed with the speediest event in the world: the Indianapolis 500. He’s even decked out his shell with crinkled-up faux-endorsement flair.
And his fellow snails laugh at his delusions. Oh, how they laugh. Their mockery is enough to spur him into running … well, slithering away. Then, in a stroke of logic that only works in animated movies about anthropomorphized animals far lower on the food chain than humans, Theo gets sucked into the engine of a souped-up drag racer where he gets super-charged with a large dose of nitrous oxide. Instead of crying “Mommy” like Frank Booth in Blue Velvet, Theo suddenly glows blue and peels around at 200 miles per hour, leaving tracks behind him like Doc Brown’s retrofitted DeLorean.
He whizzes his way across town to a dead strip mall where a pair of taco-frying brothers, a lonely hobby shop owner, a shrill manicurist and an auto shop jockey are all languishing without any customers. Turbo (nee Theo) wows the cockeyed optimist in the group, who convinces them all to invest in the money it would take to register their slimy speed demon in the Indy 500.
Because that’s what you do when you’re struggling financially. You pool every last dollar you have and bet on the miracle.
I know it sounds like I’m trying to suggest that it’s impossible to make a truly great movie from a premise that involves animals doing human things. I’m not. There’s copious proof to the contrary, from this year even. If there’s an interesting twist to Turbo, it’s that the story’s humans have a level of rationale lower than most box turtles.
Not that anyone behaves any more rationally in The Conjuring, but here’s another case in which the skill of the director makes all the difference.
If James Wan, sticking awfully close to the type of material he did a few years ago with Insidious, harbors any skepticism that the supernatural hooey he depicts in his new film is founded in anything remotely resembling fact (and it should be noted that the movie is “based on true events”), he maintains his poker face a lot more effectively than he did the last time around. If Insidious ended up overplaying its hand like a remake of Poltergeist that only focused on the 1982 film’s last 15 minutes, then The Conjuring boasts a far more stately, patient build-up.
Billed as perhaps the most difficult case ever faced by husband-and-wife paranormal investigation team Ed and Lorraine Warren, who encountered a greater level of notoriety when they weighed in on the veracity of the Amityville affair in the mid-1970s, The Conjuring is a self-consciously retro slow burn. This is the sort of film Ti West would make if he could manage to graduate from the Kickstarter league and had access to more promiscuous budgets.
Lili Taylor and Ron Livingston play Carolyn and Roger Perron, who buy a house on auction in Middle of Nowhere, Rhode Island. Their family dog refuses to enter their new house and dies outside their very first night there. They find a mysteriously boarded-up cellar with tons of cobweb-cocooned artifacts, a tomb-like room where light bulbs seem to perpetually burn out. Their five daughters’ Marco Polo-like clapping game starts to get weird when mysterious claps start sounding from rooms none of them are hiding inside. Localized rotting stenches start following them around. The clocks all stop every night at 3:07 a.m. Carolyn wakes up every morning to a new bruise on her body. Then all hell starts to break loose.
They lose sleep, but never question their sanity. The Conjuring is as irony-free about hauntings as it is about demonic possession and exorcism, even though the combination of the two strands of ’70s horror doesn’t quite cohere the way it should. Stephen King astutely pointed out that American haunted house stories are generally less about fear of ghosts and malevolent demons and more about the very real fear every homeowner experiences when a leak springs or a wall starts showing signs of mold or a toilet starts backing up. The film never taps into that dread of the familiar, instead opting for the showy outlandishness of the other.
The Conjuring is the sort of horror movie that gets in your head. But it’s not the sort of horror movie that stays in your head.