Gorgeous Art Design Highlights This Animated Fable
Nominated for Best Animated Feature Film at the 89th Academy Awards, Michaël Dudok de Wit’s The Red Turtle is an 80 minute meditative reflection, blurring dream sequences into a deserted island narrative; completely devoid of dialogue. Beautifully drawn and animated, The Red Turtle is a co-production between the German film company Wild Bunch and the acclaimed Japanese animation company Studio Ghibli (Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke). Critically praised, and nominated for 5 Annie Awards (the most prestigious award in the Animation Industry), The Red Turtle walked away with the Best Independent Animated Feature.
The Red Turtle opens with our nameless protagonist, lost at sea and waking up on the beaches of a deserted tropical island. After some initial exploration, and a dangerous fall into a water-filled cavern; the nameless man becomes determined to free himself from his island prison. Failed attempts to navigate on the rolling waves fall short as his bamboo rafts are broken into pieces by an unseen force from beneath. After a final attempt sees him again capsized, he comes face-to-face with a giant, gentle-faced red turtle. That night, back on the island, he again comes in contact with the turtle and decides to seek vengeance against who he perceives is his jailer on the island. At any rate, through some surrealism and dream sequences blended into the man’s everyday life, the nameless beach dweller makes a life for himself on his inescapable paradise.
If you are familiar with the work done by Studio Ghibli, you will have some sense of the style of art on display with The Red Turtle. Unlike the often hyper-cartoonish designs of American productions, The Red Turtle has soft, mature, and delicate designs. With sun-bleached hues and soft colors, you’d be forgiven if you mistook The Red Turtle for a watercolor painting.
Scenes move slowly and deliberately, in pace with the introspective story unfolding. Dynamic movement is minimal. Instead of overwhelming visual action, we watch as palm trees blow in the gentle breeze and our unnamed wanderer strolls across the beach. Sand crabs scurry in the shallows, illuminated by the red setting sun. The pace and stylization is elegant and handsome, superb in its grace. A minimal score accompanies the film – instead the soundscape is made up of natural waves and leaves crunching underfoot.
Even lacking dialogue, The Red Turtle never feels drawn out; and most definitely isn’t padded with expendable story. While we first follow along with the nameless man washing up on shore and looking for means of escape, we soon join him as he does his best to build a life on his barren refuge. Despite initial appearances, this story is more complex than merely a man, an island, and a sea turtle. Remaining spoiler-free, we will only reveal that loneliness and solitude aren’t one and the same.
- Story: 9/10 – Equally abstract and philosophical, the ambiguous narrative allows viewers to draw their own understanding from the film.
- Animation: 10/10 – Mature and restrained; the color, style, and design are gorgeous.
- Music Score: 8/10 – Minimalist by default; works within the confines of the production.
9/10 – For those that have the patience to contend with the absence of dialogue, you will be rewarded with a visual experience and an emotional story that you can ponder long after the film has ended.