It seems innocuous enough—the story of a little snail who dreams of winning the Indianapolis 500—and the execution has all the bedazzling bright lights of a post-Pixar production. Indeed, Turbo has a lot going for it, especially when you consider that it follows in the footsteps of lesser family films like Ice Age (and its various sequels), Madagascar (same on the series) and any other ancillary CG knock off you can name. But there is a bigger problem brewing with this soon to be sensation (it’s an animated movie in the middle of Summer - it would have to suck slug warts not to make a bunch of money), a problem parents might not recognize initially, but should make them approach this latest electronic babysitter with a giant sized salt shaker and a few lessons on intolerance.
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You can’t catch lightning in a bottle, no matter what elementary school history says about Benjamin Franklin, a kite, and a thunderstorm. The same applies to movies. It’s impossible to repeat a billion dollar success, even when you bring back all the pieces that made the original effort such a hit. Indeed, the various situations and circumstances that lead to such a triumph can never be wholly recreated, and even if they could be, time and temperament also play a part in audiences’ expectations and willingness to part with their pocket money. When The Blair Witch Project played its “is it real?” genre card in combination with its then original found footage format, it made millions. Since then, every Tom, Dick, and Hack Harry has tried to repeat its phenom status, to little legitimate result.
Don’t take this the wrong way, as it is said with the greatest respect and a longtime sense of readership and loyalty, but Richard Matheson is a gateway artist. You know the kind, a person of high skill and immeasurable influence who introduces people to a particular path that is easily ascribed to them, yet capable of complementing such onward motion. Like Ray Bradbury, or in recent times, Stephen King, Matheson introduced entire generations to the outer limits of the sci-fi and horror genres. A prolific writer, he penned several books, dozens of short stories, and even the occasional screenplay. But his biggest impact may be as a founding father to television’s neophyte attempts at the unusual and unexplained.
Some can argue it happened almost immediately, with the release of A Bug’s Life. Others offer that Cars signaled a chink in their artistic armor. For many in the Pixar fan club, however, Cars 2 proved to be the moment when the animation dynamo went from creators of clever, inventive masterworks to mere producers of product. The anthropomorphic automobiles featured in John Lasseter’ love letter to Route 66 and American’s obsession with the open road had, between the first and second film, become one of parent overseer Disney’s most profitable toy lines. They wanted more merchandising power, and pushed Pixar to bring back Lightning McQueen, Mater, and the rest of the impulse-buy players (it also explains the non-Pixar Planes, which is listed as “from the world of Cars”).
While it still has a chance to recoup its budget (and reputation) in the always unfathomable foreign film market, Will Smith’s latest, the abysmal After Earth, appears poised to be the first certified bomb of the 2013 Summer season. Raking in a dismal $27.2 million at the box office opening weekend, the savaged sci-fi epic is seen as another nail in the coffin of Smith’s once dominant commercial appeal, and the final one in M. Night Shyamalan’s struggles to regain his more or less DOA cred. While one critic complained that the film was like watching a child, ill-prepared for carrying a movie on his diminutive shoulders, actually do so, the real problem here is the plot. No, not the Point A to Point B path toward a rescue beacon, but the laughable speculative fiction that fills in the fringe.