The Red Turtle (2016) / Animation-Fantasy
aka La Tortue Rouge
MPAA Rated: PG for some thematic elements and peril
Running Time: 80 min.
Director: Michael Dudok de Wit
Screenplay: Pascale Ferran, Michael Dudok de Wit
Review published February 26, 2017
The premise: a man on a sailboat caught in a raging storm ends up on a deserted island, spending his days struggling to survive, as well as to build and successfully launch a raft that will take him back to civilization. Unfortunately, a majestic red turtle thwarts his attempts, to the point where the man feels he needs to kill the creature in order to achieve success. However, in so doing, he discovers there's more than meets the eye, not only to the turle, but also in the world beyond anything he once knew.
Studio Ghibli co-produces (their first non-Japanese effort), along with Wild Bunch, this uniquely poetic and arty hand-drawn animated fantasy from London-based Dutch director-cowriter Michael Dudok de Wit. It's a film filled to the brim with images, and devoid of any dialogue (other than the occasional, "Hey!"), and though Dudok is not Japanese, there's definitely the minimalist Japanese approach to his animation that aught Miyazaki's eye back when he saw Dudok's 2000 short, Father and Daughter, and wanted to collaborate with him.
Beautifully animated, with stunning illustrated backgrounds worthy of a time-honored storybook, it's a delightful film just as a meditative observation of a man who struggles to survive on his own, then engages in a metaphorical life odyssey for us to ponder. At times serene, at others surreal, there's a life-affirming, and a nature-embracing, vibe to the film that will likely make viewers reflect on what it means to be a part of this world, especially as we build and protect a family. Combining its simple but lush visual aesthetic with the sumptuous orchestral score, allowing the capturing of the dreamy mood to go along with the precise body language to weave its tale; it's a treat for eyes, ears and minds alike.
The meaning of the allegorical film will be subject to interpretation, of course, as many artistic expressions tend to be. My own take is that it has something to do with how a man falls out of civilization and makes it his mission to return, only to learn that humanity can and should live in harmony with nature, rather than ignore or kill it in the process of technological and industrial advancement. Your own interpretations may vary.
While clocking in at a relatively short 80 minutes, viewers should still go into it knowing that The Red Turtle is a tale told with patience and delicateness, especially as there's no dialogue or expository information as to what it all means beyond what we see and hear before our eyes. For those open to its silent power, you'll be rewarded with a thoughtful and contemplative fantasy tale unlike anything you've seen before, or likely ever will again.
Along these lines, although appropriate for family viewing, younger tykes may grow restless at a film that explores mature themes at a leisurely pace, so a theater experience may prove to be a challenge. However, a home viewing experience could reap rewards. Given the likely questions the child will ask about why things happen the way they happen in the film, the discussion that follows could prove more than worthwhile for those who wish to expose young minds to deeper thought than afforded by the likes of frenetic child-targeted animation like Storks and Trolls. Some of us adults would benefit from that too. A beautiful film, on many levels.
- This wondrous and profound feature would deservedly garner an Academy Award nomination for Best Animated Feature of 2016.
©2017 Vince Leo