Movie Review – The Red Turtle

The Red Turtle (2017)
Written Michaël Dudok de Wit & Pascale Ferran
Directed by Michaël Dudok de Wit

red turtle

An unnamed man is struggling to stay afloat during a violent storm on the ocean. He wakes up on the shores of a deserted island. After finding a source of fresh water and fruit, the man decides to use the bamboo that grows on the island to build a raft. His first attempt fails when an unseen force from beneath breaks the raft apart. After two more attempts, he finally spots the culprit, a giant red sea turtle. From there the relationship between the man and this turtle takes some unexpected turns and becomes a film about the stages of human life.

The Red Turtle is an animated film without a single word spoken. It was co-produced by Studio Ghibli and Wild Bunch (Robert Rodriguez’ company), while made by Dutch animator Michaël Dudok de Wit. And it is a gorgeous film with some of the most intricate animation I’ve seen in many years. It is a film that will provoke inevitable comparisons to Robinson Crusoe, Cast Away, and even Swiss Army Man. Funny enough, it never made me think of other animated pictures which is a sign of how transcendent the art in this film is.

From the opening tempest on the ocean, you’ll see how much work went into making this movie, as each wave rises and falls with such fluidity it hypnotizes and brings you into the film. When the protagonist hits the island, the scale of his surroundings is made evident by the wide angles, that often place the character as a speck against a wall of sand or against the full leaves of the bamboo forest. His only companions for the first half of the film are some overly curious crabs.

While The Red Turtle is visually compelling, its story is not as engaging. A lot is happening thematically in its examination of the stages of life, but the animation actually becomes a hindrance in communicating the profundity of these ideas. The characters faces fail to show proper emotion, and so their reactions are incredibly muted. When a moment is meant to hit the audience, it is communicated clearly, but without the emotional resonance, I believe the director intends.

The Red Turtle is a fantastic achievement in animation and stands as a nice contrast from the Disney and Japanese styles. It most closely reminded me of Hergé’s art for TinTin, the character models and the details of the environments. But, it doesn’t live up to the emotional depth it wants to get across to the audience. Beautiful and a film that will be worth revisiting through the years.

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