And A Little Snail Shall Lead Them

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When I first saw the announcement on Monday that INDYCAR was involved in the production of an upcoming animated movie, I brushed it off as something totally insignificant and didn’t even bother to finish reading the story. Then I saw more and more stories pop up hailing this as a big deal, so I figured I’d better go back to find out what all the hubbub was about. As it turns out, this actually is a big deal – or at least it has the potential to be.

Last year, INDYCAR CEO Randy Bernard opened an office in Hollywood under the name INDYCAR Entertainment. Once again, I gave it little thought and had actually forgotten about it until Monday. Their first major project was the subject of the announcement – the animated film Turbo, the story of an ordinary garden snail that gains extraordinary speed through some type of freak accident. Turbo then decides to fulfill a lifelong dream and enter the Indianapolis 500. I can only assume that the little snail will win it.

If I haven’t lost you by now, you’re probably at least rolling your eyes. Don’t. There is some real muscle behind this little snail. This project is being headed up by Hollywood powerhouse DreamWorks, which is co-owned by Hollywood moguls Steven Spielberg, David Geffen and Michael Katzenberg – names that bring instant recognition and credibility. DreamWorks Animation has produced many blockbusters such as the Shrek franchise of movies.

As far as pop-culture goes, I pretty well live under a rock. But even I have heard of some of the cast of Turbo. Ryan Reynolds, Paul Giamatti, Michelle Rodriguez, Samuel L. Jackson and (ahem) Snoop Dogg are all listed in the cast, with Reynolds to star as Turbo the snail.

Why is this a big deal? Because it exposes the Indianapolis 500 and the sport of IndyCar to a whole new audience. Not only does it introduce the world of open-wheel to a brand new generation of children, but it is likely to snare their adult parents as well. DreamWorks Animation operates by the notion that their movies aren’t intended just for children, but also to bring out the child within adults. They achieve this by providing settings that will appeal to both children and adults and incorporate clever writing through humor and satire (i.e. Shrek).

This movie sounds a little like a veiled version of Cars and Cars2, but based on the success of those movies – I don’t think that’s such a bad thing. Think of the potential promotional tie-ins through McDonald’s, Burger King or any other vendor that kids frequent. What about the cool toys available in Target? The IZOD IndyCar Series now has a tremendous marketing opportunity ahead of it, without the likes of Gene Simmons to ruin it.

Not only is DreamWorks Animation working closely with INDYCAR and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, they have secured the services of none other than two-time Indianapolis 500 winner and three-time defending IndyCar champion Dario Franchitti to serve as a technical consultant. All I read about this project tells me that everything is being done first class. No short cuts will be taken. For once, the IZOD IndyCar Series is getting top-shelf treatment and will have to share the stage with no one.

Once again, the presence of Randy Bernard is paying huge dividends. Robin Miller has already proclaimed him to be the hardest working IndyCar boss he’s been around in the six decades he has covered the sport. In this offseason alone; he has dealt with the untimely death of one of the sport’s most popular figures, watched as new cars and engines were received by some teams but not others and tried to diffuse a vocal track president in Texas. All the while, he has been travelling the globe tirelessly promoting the series he has led for just a little more than two years.

Now he has pulled another rabbit out of his hat through the forgotten about INDYCAR Entertainment that he created last year. Can you imagine anyone, and I mean anyone, in the previous regime having the vision (no pun intended) to create such an alliance with the marketing power of DreamWorks? I cannot.

As far as the movie goes, so long as the writing and graphics are good – this could be huge. And I feel confident that both will be. As mentioned earlier, DreamWorks Animation is famous for creating storylines that are appealing to young kids, with a nod towards bringing in the adults with subtle humor that only adults could understand. DreamWorks Animation created Jerry Seinfeld’s Bee Movie, which carried visual graphics and a simple message that resonated with kids. The dialogue was also chocked full of witty sarcastic references that would sail over any kid’s head but ring clear with adults.

Of course, compared to other racing movies – the bar is not particularly high. In fact, the most recent movie involving open-wheeled racing – Driven set a new low in cinema. This wasn’t just a new low in racing cinema; it was a low point for cinema in general. It may have been the worst movie ever made, of any type (I refuse to insert the word “genre” here. It is a very pretentious sounding word and I never use it).

For the month of May, I have already planned on doing a post on the various racing movies over the years. I still will, but for the record – while Driven is easily the worst, I consider Grand Prix to be the best, but there are others right up there. But none of them are really great. I don’t expect Turbo to rival Grand Prix in compelling drama, but I do expect it to be very entertaining.

This is another step in the right direction for this series. I never thought I’d ever give a fictitious snail any thought at all, but this particular snail is presenting all types of opportunities to bring the IZOD IndyCar Series to a whole new group of potential fans who otherwise may not have given the series a second look. Randy Bernard just keeps earning that paycheck.

Turbo is scheduled for a release date of July 19, 2013.

George Phillips

Speaking of big-time productions: After an almost three month hiatus, One Take Only makes an inglorious return tomorrow, Thursday March 15. The unscripted and unrehearsed video blog of Oilpressure.com is back! We’ve returned to the back porch and we’re enjoying the warm weather. Join me and my good friend John McLallen as we discuss the upcoming season and other things related to the IZOD IndyCar Series.

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16 Responses to “And A Little Snail Shall Lead Them”

  1. Excellent stuff George. I heard about this a few days and ago – hopefully the kids will pick up on it.
    Out of interest, have you seen either “Senna” or “TT: Closer to the Edge” yet? Two racing movies that both came out last year that are up there with the best I’ve ever seen.

    • I’ve seen “Senna” and you’re right – it’s one of the best racing documentaries out there. Very well done. It is finally available on DVD here in the US (thanks to madtad1 for letting me know that). – GP

  2. With the normal Dreamworks marketing push behind it, there’s little doubt the movie will be at least somewhat of a commercial success, regardless of the quality. Of course, I hope it’s a great film–I’ll be taking the kids, naturally.

    If it’s the sort of film that doesn’t just do well, and is genuinely the sort of movie that gets a new generation excited for IndyCar, well, that’s just a bonus. But $100 mil in marketing and promotion will have at least some runoff benefit for the Series, either way.

  3. I wish the release date wasn’t so soon AFTER the 2013 500, but it should be good for the series.

  4. Simona Fan Says:

    It seems to me that most of the Pixar and Dreamworks Animation story lines seem really lame when you just give a brief synopsis without seeing the full vision. Turbo sounds lame, but I trust the production studio and the creative people behind it. If they can make stories about ants and ogres and a panda seem exciting, then I’m sure they can make a good movie about a hyperactive snail. It certainly seems like Dreamworks was looking for their answer to Cars, and IndyCar is willing to oblige. Good job IndyCar Entertainment and hats off to Randy for getting this done.

  5. Brian in NY Says:

    Good post George and I agree with you 100%. Another movie that I think could also help bring fans into open wheel racing will be Ron Howards movie “Rush.” They started shooting recently and it covers the battle between James Hunt and Nikki Lauda for the F1 title. I know it is about F1, but most Americans don’t know the difference between an IndyCar and F1. The fact that it’s an openwheel car and it is being done by Ron Howard should bring a lot of eyes and interest to that style of racing. Between the two movie’s, 2013 could be a very good year for attracting new fans.

    • Thanks for the information Brian. I had heard that Ron Howard was making a movie called “Rush” and I was hoping it was not about that other Rush with the bulbous sidepod.

  6. A snail would have too much downforce.

  7. I suspect there’s another IndyCar movie in the offing. I just hope it is done well, with taste and respect.

  8. I have loved almost everything that Dreamworks has produced so I am pretty excited about this. The Shrek series of films were awesome and these folks don’t get behind half-baked projects. Besides their animation division, Dreamworks has also produced some very excellent films, such as “Saving Private Ryan, Gladiator and Meet The Parents.

  9. Wichita Indy Fan Says:

    I am really excited about this. I have a toddler now. There are a lot of baby/toddler products with Cars characters slapped on them. There will be a lot of exposure to go with this film.

  10. Dreamworks has had a much spottier track record with their animation than Pixar but they have had some good ones so hopefully all the story elements come together as that’s what will make it work, a good story. That makes all movies work and unfortunately most movies don’t have the story down. That’s first with Pixar and that’s why their stuff works better than anyone else.

    The Ron Howard “Rush” F1 film can be a net positive as well, hopefully removing the foul taste of “Driven” from years ago. His Twitter account is putting out a lot of great behind the scenes shots from the Rush shoot: https://twitter.com/#!/realronhoward

    Looking forward to both films.

  11. When I first saw the post title, I thought it would be about Lotus. *ducks!*

  12. james t suel Says:

    If its done well and helps Indycar, iam all for it.!!

  13. billytheskink Says:

    Driven deserves it’s role as a punching bag for race fans and movie critics alike, but there are much, much worse movies out there.

    For a far worse movie that involves racing, try Tim Conway’s “Dorf Goes Auto Racing”. Conway, wearing a Hitler mustache and walking on his knees to portray a German little person, enters the Indianapolis 500 where he races a stock car against Darrell Waltrip, Ken Schrader, and Richard Petty.
    Many things can be said about Driven, but they never got something so egregiously wrong as portraying the Indy 500 as a stock car race.

    I am looking forward to this Dreamworks project, even though the snail has an airbox…

  14. Exposure to the name of Indy is not exposure to Indy.

    Indycar had better be ready to retain new viewers. A new viewer that doesn’t like what he or she sees is a viewer you lose forever.

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