A Turtle’s Tale: Sammy’s Adventures

Summer 2010 saw the release of Sammy’s Adventures: The Secret Passage, an animated feature produced in Belgium (but scripted in English) which starred the voice talents of Tim Curry and various people you’ve never heard of. For no discernible reason, Sammy’s Adventures has now been recast, re-recorded and renamed for its Anglophone release. Pitched squarely at the pre-schoolers but with an inexplicably hardline hippy message, it’s hard to imagine this film appealing to anyone.

A Turtle’s Tale is the sprawling story of one tiny turtle’s struggle against the odds to survive in a hostile world, make friends and search for his long lost love. Innit nice? It opens with Sammy (Hurt), a venerable turtle patriarch, waiting on a Californian beach for the birth of his first grandchildren before beginning to tell the story of his own birth, fifty years before amongst those very same dunes. Born a bit of a weedy runt (and now voiced by Dominic Cooper), Sammy’s tale was nearly snuffed out minutes after hatching thanks to an encounter with a hungry seagull and Shelley (Arterton), a FIT BABY LADY TURTLE who promptly vanishes out of his life. Sammy sets sail on a chunk of flotsam (lazy) and soon meets Ray (Sheehan), an irrepressible Irish leatherback hatchling with a taste for “stinky jellyfish”.

Sammy and Ray live a life of ease and hijinks drifting around the Atlantic, but Sammy can’t help feeling that there must be more to life; he’s heard rumours of a secret passage leading to a mythical turtle paradise, and he dreams of finding Shelley again. And then there are the humans, who Sammy learns can be both respectful and dismissive of the natural world. Sure, he and Ray were separated by indiscriminate drag-netting, but then again a hippy painted a CND sign on his shell; it’s swings and roundabouts, really. Will Sammy’s adventures lead him to the chelonian Elysium he craves? Will Ray ever turn up again, gabbling like a drunken Galway tramp? And might Shelley one day swim back into his life? [SPOILER: obviously all these things happen.]

Maybe twenty years ago a film this tepid might have been judged adequate for a half-term trip, but the bar is simply set too high nowadays to permit such lazy efforts at ‘family friendly’ cinema. In the wake of last year’s massive crowd-pleasers Toy Story 3 and How To Train Your Dragon, A Turtle’s Tale was always going to have to be more visually arresting; and that’s without considering the considerable legacy of Finding Nemo, the best selling DVD of all time. Finding Nemo actually had turtles, for God’s sake, and they were cool turtles! If Sammy wants to go up against Crush and Squirt, he really needs to be more than cute, plucky and possessed of an unpleasant habit of swimming into the screen and giving you a headache.

Alas, he isn’t. Spurning the even-handed approach which made the Toy Story films a joy for children and also painless viewing for adults, the plot and script of A Turtle’s Tale are aimed exclusively at children young enough to be seduced by bright colours and stultifyingly repetitive dialogue. This is oddly juxtaposed with a heavy-handed ecology/social conscience/ooh-look-you-naughty-humans theme, which sees Sammy encounter oil spills, whalers, sewage outflows, police brutality (it’d never happen on the seabed) and even a carbon copy of the Greenpeace vessel Rainbow Warrior. Yawn.

A word on the Greenpeace boat, actually; when Sammy is taken into its sanitarium, he’s wheeled past several cages of pleasingly mental penguins. That’s all very well, but there’s something worrying going on – the penguins can’t talk, despite the fact that seagulls can (at least when they don’t have a mouthful of turtle). Whales can talk and fish can’t, which sort of makes sense, but why can octopi talk (in plummy patrician tones, no less) when crabs can’t even manage sign language? I’d be terrified of taking an inquisitive eight-year-old to see A Turtle’s Tale; they’d be all over the inconsistent linguistic apartheid which has been imposed on sealife worldwide, and rightly so. Lazily plotted, poorly written and plastered with some distinctly ropy 3D, A Turtle’s Tale thinks earnestness is a good substitute for effort; it’s a shame the five year olds won’t get the eco message, because anyone older than that will be bored stupid.

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