A pacific fairy tale of a man who is stranded on an uninhabited island. He builds rafts to escape, but every time, a red turtle destroys his handiwork. In time, he learns that the turtle is more than a stubborn animal.
The Red Turtle shows that hand-drawn animation will always remain beautiful and can still find its place besides 3D work. There is some computerized animation here and there, but it doesn’t show. Most of the animation is the result of painstakingly drawing every line. Please see the elaborate nature scenes with thousands of leaves and blades of grass that rustle in the wind, and some of those shots are only visible for a couple of seconds. It is therefore really worth it to see this one on the big screen, to see the incredible amount of detail in the drawings. It makes your mouth drop to realize how much work it took to draw this film.
It is a simple story of a man shipwrecked on an island, who tries to survive. We’re treated to beautiful drawings of sunsets and forests, while the unnamed man climbs the mountain or swims between the rocks. We feel his frustration and desperation while he struggles. There is some comedy and some drama. Some magical elements enter later on, and the story becomes in turn a bit confusing but also hauntingly beautiful. Near the end, I started wondering how it would end, and it receives a beautiful end that ties everything together.
The animation is so realistic that the magical elements feel a bit scary. The realism of the colours is stunning, and also the movements of crabs and turtles are incredibly lifelike. When the story suddenly switches to dreams or myth, you don’t notice it at first and this gives it a bigger punch. In combination with a beautiful soundtrack, The Red Turtle has some haunting moments that stay with you.
No spoken lines enter the film. Only an occasional grunt or yell from the human characters. Instead, all the other sounds of the sea and the tropics get an enlarged presence. We hear the rustling of the grass, the ebb and flow of the water and the tweeting of unseen birds. The environment itself is as much a character of the film as the humans and animals. This is another reason to see it on the big screen, because you need to be present and soak in the atmosphere. Otherwise, the film may feel too slow. It’s best to drop your work and thoughts and just be with the film for a while.
The Red Turtle is a successful cooperation between Belgian and Japanese animators. Michael Dudok de Wit directed and wrote the story, while Studio Ghibli provided assistance. The animation style is a mashup of Belgian and Japanese styles, mixing the Tintin styles of clear lines and dotted eyes with the Ghibli sensibilities of detailed linework and expert use of colors and atmosphere.
I can only recommend this one. It is calming and meditative. It is beautiful, heartfelt and the result of passion and artistry. If the latest blockbuster left you empty and confused, The Red Turtle offers a simple, short and beautiful story that cleanses the palate.