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“Turbo” is IndyCar’s best chance to hit mainstream, new fans in a dozen years

Jul 16, 2013, 1:30 PM EDT

TURBO

There’s one very important thing I’ll say up front about DreamWorks Animation’s latest animated film, “Turbo:” It’s not about “us.”

By “us,” I mean racing insiders, veterans and observers who are already hooked on IndyCar racing, or have followed the sport for generations, through any and all peaks and valleys, management turmoil and political unrest.

No, “Turbo” represents IndyCar’s best chance in the last dozen years to re-enter the mainstream consciousness, and attract new, particularly younger fans. It’s a rare chance that can’t be squandered, given the last film attempt trying to pump open-wheel racing out to a broader audience was “Driven.”

A dozen years later, the film starring an aging veteran (Sylvester Stallone) coming out of retirement to help develop a talented rookie (Kip Pardue, better known as the guy who played Ronnie “Sunshine” Bass in “Remember the Titans”) is still a running joke in racing circles.

It’s with that as a backdrop that I’ll say that DreamWorks has managed to make a movie about a snail entering the Indianapolis 500 – an unrealistic premise in anything other than an animated film – more realistic than “Driven.”

Of course, “Turbo” aims much higher than that. If the social media and marketing tagline at this year’s Indianapolis 500 was “Indy 500 or Bust,” “Turbo or Bust” might be an appropriate one for this film.

The visionary on the project is director, co-writer and story creator David Soren, a Toronto native who came home to see an advanced screening this past weekend ahead of the Honda Indy Toronto doubleheader.

Soren said ahead of the screening that the inspiration came from his children’s love of speed and his own snail infestation problem in his front yard. He was one of several who spoke to the Associated Press for a preview piece.

The idea was one of dozens he’d submitted to DreamWorks, and it got approved after years of trying.

Without giving anything plot-wise away, the concept behind the film is simple: your all-American dream of rags to riches, except in this case, it’s a snail (Theo, who becomes Turbo, voiced by Ryan Reynolds) who gains supernatural speed in a freak accident and escapes the drudgery of his home to attempt to race in the Indianapolis 500.

Objectively speaking, the film starts out great for the first half hour or so, with perhaps a slight lull in the middle, and a build to the climax at the finish. At barely 90 minutes, if that, it’s short enough to keep an attention span without dragging.

One of the things I was impressed with from the screening was the attention to detail. If you’ve ever been to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, either as a fan or working, you’ll appreciate every little observation that has been perfectly adapted.

They’ve ensured it’s not some generic IndyCar in the film, but that it is the current Dallara DW12 in low-downforce speedway configuration. Plus the legendary/notorious “Yellow Shirts” appear, the Pagoda and the scoring tower are depicted accurately, and other elements along the way immediately strike a chord that DreamWorks “gets it.”

Dario Franchitti’s presence on the film as a technical consultant clearly helps the racing sequences. The super-imposing of a snail racing in-between 32 other cars shouldn’t have been as seamlessly integrated as it is, but it looks promising.

The thing I was most impressed with on Thursday night? The laughter. The actual engagement for the kids of drivers Scott Dixon, Sebastien Bourdais and Ed Carpenter, who were either rolling on the floor laughing or had their eyes so big because they were captivated.

Yes, these kids already have the internal workings of IndyCar at least somewhat tattoed on their brains. But if they’re anything close to a representative sample of how younger kids who have no idea or concept of IndyCar and the Indianapolis 500 might react, that’s going to be a benefit for all parties.

My advice going into the film? If you’re currently involved with the series, remove yourself from the internal day-to-day workings of IndyCar and how race weekends tend to go. Sit back, relax, and appreciate the detail that’s on offer.

And if you’re not into IndyCar, or racing, it seriously has the potential to convert you. I walked out and heard a couple kids asking questions about IndyCar and the Indianapolis 500, and that was all I needed to hear.

“Turbo” opens nationwide July 17. See the trailer above and see a list of other “Turbo” related stories we’ve done on MotorSportsTalk listed below.

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