Saturday, March 26, 2011

Film Review with Robert Mann - A Turtle's Tale: Sammy's Adventures

A Turtle’s Tale: Sammy’s Adventures 3D **
A Turtle’s Tale: Sammy’s Adventures 2D *½

With the Easter holidays getting closer and closer and the major studios having already lined up a series of family films from some of the big names in animation to keep the kids occupied while they are off from school, A Turtle’s Tale: Sammy’s Adventures arrives in cinemas somewhat before the kids break up for the two week holiday – and wisely so as this film has little chance of competing with the big Easter films Hop, Rio, Mars Needs Moms and even Winnie the Pooh (the latter in traditional 2D animation).

The latest CG animated feature produced by one of the small animation studios that would so like to be one of the big boys but just can’t deliver the same high standard of filmmaking as the likes of Pixar, DreamWorks Animation, Walt Disney Animation Studios, Blue Sky Studios, Sony Pictures Animation, Illumination Entertainment, Animal Logic and ImageMovers Digital, A Turtle’s Tale is produced by Illuminata Entertainment, a Belgian company that was founded in 2005 and specialises in the creation of true, first frame conceived and created stereoscopic 3D material and that has only one previous film credit under its belt, that being the poorly received 2008 3D animated film Fly Me to the Moon

As is the case with many of the smaller animation companies, Illuminata’s track record to date does little to suggest an animated feature that will stand out in any spectacular way (aside from the 3D that comes right out of the screen that is) and the critical reception to the film – which was originally titled Sammy’s Adventures: The Secret Passage after being made under the working title Around the World in 50 Years 3D, this working title still being referenced in the film’s closing credits – thus far has been distinctly unimpressive. Nonetheless, though, with a sequel in development – under the working title Escape From Paradise – and the film already having earned $75 million at the international box office, there must be some people out there who like it. So, does A Turtle’s Tale: Sammy’s Adventures prove to be a truly worthy film to take your kids to or, with its strong messages about the environment, does it rather prove to be just another mediocre effort in the vein of last year’s Animals United, a film that may have looked good but had little going on beneath the surface?

Sammy (voiced by John Hurt) is a fifty year old sea turtle who has lived a long and exciting life that has seen him travel the globe, find love and develop a sort of love hate relationship with the humans whose actions have damaged the environment and threatened the existence of him and others like him. Telling his life story, Sammy explains how he has come to be where he is in his life. Born in 1959 on a California beach, the young Sammy (voiced by Dominic Cooper) is a very different turtle to his older, wiser self. Having met and quickly become separated from the love of his life, a hatchling called Shelly (voiced by Gemma Arterton), Sammy has spent many years floating around the world’s oceans with best friend Ray (voiced by Robert Sheehan), developing a desire to explore in the process, a desire to explore that he eventually shares with Shelly when they finally reencounter each other and love blossoms between them. When Sammy’s actions take Shelly away from him, however, he pursues a new purpose in life, to find the one he loves on a spectacular adventure that takes him on an exploration of the high seas in an ever changing world, where he and Ray must dodge the untold dangers of the ocean, while making new friends along the way. During this voyage of discovery, Sammy's thirst for adventure is certainly tested, but his love for Shelly never falters – will he ever find her?

As with many CG animated features produced by smaller animation companies, there are two tests that A Turtle’s Tale: Sammy’s Adventures needs to pass if it is going to stand up to the scrutiny of comparisons to the big animated features. The first of these relates to the visuals and in this regard the film generally delivers to a fairly high standard. The second, on the other hand, is substance – read on how to find out how the film fares in that aspect. The animation here isn’t good enough to put Illuminata in the big leagues but it does prove quite visually appealing and is generally quite cute and charming, an almost photorealistic approach being employed to the rendering of the landscapes, skies and underwater environments while the characters are far more cartoonish in their appearance and any humans that feature don’t look particularly true to life. The animation is sometimes quite beautiful, in particularly the natural landscapes and underwater environments that are depicted and a map that shows Sammy’s travels around the globe is quite cute. So, in general, the animation is solid but not especially remarkable. The 3D is somewhat more notable however. Very unrestrained in its application of 3D, there is some quite substantial three dimensional depth to be seen here – underwater shots have an aquarium like effect for instance – but, with the 3D more noticeable in the foreground than in the background, the film is far more successful as coming towards the screen 3D than it is at beyond the window 3D. In the coming out of the screen aspect the 3D does prove quite impressive. 

Birds fly, waves crash, bubbles float up and harpoons shoot towards the screen, guaranteeing that you will be move back in your seat while the 3D really impresses when crabs point their pincers, albatrosses poke their beaks, fish swim and a snake slithers right out of the screen into the very auditorium where you are watching the film. This film very much embraces the gimmick of 3D and kids will certainly love the three dimensional effects shown off here. This is very much a double edged sword, though, as some of the 3D effects are far too pronounced, so much so as to cause some eye strain. Regardless, however, the 3D is the main reason to see the film. As a 3D animation show reel it isn’t bad but unfortunately the film lacks in other key areas. There isn’t much of a plot, the film mostly seeming like a series of encounters between Sammy and humans that try to hammer in the film’s messages about the environment into the minds of the film’s young target audience and these messages are not exactly subtle with an oil spill taking the film down a rather dark path, both literally and figuratively, and themes such as overfishing, pollution and whaling being tackled. 

The environmental message is pretty much the same thing that we have seen many times before and was previously seen in last year’s Animals United – which this film may as well be a companion piece to given how similar the themes are and the fact that a couple of elderly turtle characters that feature bear a striking resemblance to the turtle characters from that film. The when’s and where’s of the film’s events are also only subtly alluded to and only older viewers will pick up on these allusions. The dialogue also fails to snap and the voice cast doesn’t contribute much, making for a film that has its moments and is generally very sweet but, lacking humour and excitement – Sammy’s adventures aren’t all that exciting – proves to be something that likely only very undemanding youngsters will really enjoy. So, A Turtle’s Tale: Sammy’s Adventures is a film that may look good but that fails the test of substance. Unfortunately, while Sammy’s shell conceals a big heart and an appetite for adventure, this film is rather a hollow shell.


Review by Robert Mann BA (Hons)

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