Trapped in a mundane job at the tomato plant, Theo dreams of becoming a glamorous race car driver.
He wants the fame and fortune of Indianapolis 500 winner Guy Gagne, but more than anything, Theo wants to go fast.
The problem? Theo is a snail.
That's the premise behind the DreamWorks Animation movie "Turbo" that opens Wednesday and features the Indianapolis 500. The idea, by director, co-writer and story creator David Soren, came from watching his young son's obsession with "all things fast" and an annoying snail infestation in his own front yard.
"It's the juxtaposition of extreme slowness and speed all in my yard," Soren said. "I love an underdog story, and nobody expects anything out of a snail, the odds are stacked against them. They are the butt of slow jokes — they are stepped on by kids, despised by gardeners, eaten by the French — so the parallels of a snail and an underdog was the perfect match."
Using a template similar to three of Soren's favorites — "Rocky," ''The Karate Kid," and "Breaking Away" — he created an animated underdog story that pays homage to "The Fast and The Furious" franchise. Theo (Ryan Reynolds) finally finds his speed after being accidentally sucked into a street racer's engine and getting zapped with nitrous oxide. So long, slow-poke snail. Theo becomes Turbo and he begins a push to escape the drudgery of his life in the San Fernando Valley and make it to the Indianapolis 500 to race against Gagne, his French-Canadian hero.
"For any race fan, human or mollusk, the pinnacle of achievement in the sport is the Indianapolis 500," Soren said of his decision to center the movie on "The Greatest Spectacle of Racing."
It's a dream come true for the snail, as well as the IndyCar Series, which can't buy a break in halting its slide in public interest.
Operating the last several years with big ideas but a thin marketing budget, nothing has seemed to work in building a sustainable buzz around the series. Now it has a life-size, free advertisement of its centerpiece event and storied speedway on big screens across America.
Soren tabbed three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Dario Franchitti as a technical consultant for the racing sequences, and had full access to the speedway to ensure authenticity.
"When you have a snail that can go 200 mph, it was important to ground everything else in reality," Soren said.
Franchitti, who with his thick hair and busy eyebrows bares an unintentionally slight resemblance to Gagne, made several trips to DreamWorks' studio to lend a hand and was pleased with the final product.
"I sat and watched all the ins and outs of it, I was totally caught up in the story," Franchitti said. "The animation is unbelievable, just incredible. But the story itself, how funny it is, there's jokes in there that kids will get and jokes adults will get. I was rolling around laughing."
Reigning Indianapolis 500 winner Tony Kanaan was one of several drivers who attended the New York premiere, while the rest of the IndyCar field saw the film last week in Toronto before their doubleheader weekend. All were impressed with the realism of both their craft and the speedway.
"I think the movie has a great message — it's about getting the awareness of the Indy 500, but also a message of perseverance," Kanaan said.
Scott Dixon took his two young daughters and said they immediately wanted to see the movie again, while Sebastien Bourdais said his 6-year-old was entertained from start to finish.
"She was just big eyes the whole time, laughing, really enjoying it," Bourdais said. "It's one of these movies that you can take it with two degrees, with the adult's eye and kid's eye because it fits perfectly. It's the right message and it's great for the IndyCar Series and Indy."
Franchitti and Will Power both play reporters at the speedway in the movie. Racing great Mario Andretti plays several roles, including one of the "Yellow Shirt" volunteers the speedway uses each year.
Andretti, who also worked on the animated "Cars," isn't a huge fan of racing movies, saying "they either overdo it or they totally miss it. I've not seen anything that's realistic." But he was impressed with Soren's team and the focus on every detail.
"They were asking very pertinent questions about what they can incorporate in the film, such as when you go around the corner, you see the rubber marbles fly," Andretti said. "It makes you appreciate the detail that goes into these things. It's a fun, fun story and it can help IndyCar. It's going to pique curiosity.
"When you see something in that format, you want to see the real thing. Indianapolis is still Indianapolis. This is going to strike a chord."