Sammy’s shell isn’t the only thing that’s green in Ben Stassen’s “A Turtle’s Tale,” a visually rich underwater opus that’s loaded with nearly as many anti-pollution and environmental-impact messages as 3D sight-gags. Leagues ahead of Stassen’s “Fly Me to the Moon,” yet still somewhat underwhelming, this CG concoction offers young auds a sea turtle’s-eye view of the world, with all manner of marine life ready to leap off the screen. Easily dubbable for every market, this spectacle-heavy toon is ready to travel, with tie-in opportunities galore and a sequel already in the works.
As if global warming debates weren’t contentious enough, “A Turtle’s Tale” also finds itself at the center of a battle brewing in the world of stereoscopic 3D animation. On one side stand those who argue for subtlety and story-driven visuals (the Pixar approach, so to speak); on the other, a contingent who want to earn the ticket upcharge by delivering a dynamic, gag-oriented thrill ride. Stassen falls squarely in the latter camp, with “squarely” being the operative word for the Belgian helmer and his un-hip storytelling style. Having cut his teeth on Imax and large-format nature docs, Stassen believes in pushing 3D to the limit, reteaming with “Fly” scribe Domonic Paris to hatch a loose separated-at-sea story chockfull of depth-cue tricks and other chances to pop things out over auds’ heads.
In the early scenes, we learn that Sammy (voiced by Dany Boon in “Tale’s” native French, and divided between Yuri Lowenthal and Stacy Keach in English) was the runt of his litter, barely able to crawl from the nest to the water without being eaten along the way. Scooped up by a seagull in the first of many buckle-your-seatbelt moments, Sammy meets and inadvertently saves a fellow turtle, Shelly, whom he’ll spend the rest of the film pursuing to the far corners of the earth.
With his big eyes and bald head, Sammy looks enough like a newborn human that you want to adopt him, despite the character’s flippers and turtle shell. The female turtles are less immediately appealing, relying on plump cheeks and eyelashes to signify the gender difference (still bald, however, the ladies have the unfortunate and rather offputting distinction of looking like chemo patients).
The stylized turtles are relatively unique in a world that otherwise strives for photoreal detail, or at least a very sophisticated After Dark screensaver. The quality of the imagery actually goes a long way toward making up for the film’s other rough edges, making the overall package look much more polished than it actually is. Character rigging and animation remain relatively rudimentary throughout, and some of the more aggressive 3D stunts are actually quite stressful on the eyes.
“A Turtle’s Tale” uses the species’ longevity to turn back the clock half a century (the pic’s catchy working title was “Around the World in 50 Years”), with Sammy serving as a firsthand witness to various ecological disasters — he’s caught in an oil spill and nearly suffocated by a plastic bag — that serve as setbacks to his romantic reunion. But the humans aren’t all bad; hippies and Greenpeace-style workers nurse him back to health, while virtually every other creature (save for a scraggly cat voiced by Tim Curry in the English-language version) seems intent on eating Sammy.
The visuals steal the show here, with the tame humor and innocuous, almost boring story serving to support the spectacle. Contrast Stassen’s approach with the comparatively edgy “Finding Nemo,” and it’s clear that “Tale” has been engineered for sheer roller-coaster appeal.
Pic preemed in its original French at the Annecy Animation Film Festival, with Stassen prepping a separate English-friendly version with such star voices as Anthony Anderson, Ed Begley Jr., Kathy Griffin, Melanie Griffith and Jenny McCarthy. Toon was already heavy with English-language pop tunes from the likes of Bruno Mars, Mika and Michael Jackson, lending a mild, easy-listening groove to Sammy’s big adventure.