Studio Ghibli and Wild Bunch studios co-produce this intriguing animation from award winning animator/director Michael Dudok de Wit. ‘The Red Turtle’ tells a dialogue-free, yet fine detailed, narrative about a man shipwrecked on a small island.
It may seem like a cliché to say it, but the animation here is absolutely beautiful. There are scenes showing the sea, sky and sunset in which it is obvious that great efforts have been made to add variations matching real life natural environments. The sea has a noticeable tide, leaving traces washed up on the shore. The tree branches become slightly angled in the wind. All of this is thought about on a micro level – detail by detail, frame by frame.
‘The Red Turtle‘ also has a recurring joke involving the crabs that reside on the beach. This can be seen as light relief from what is at times a heavier ‘heartstrings’ central plot, surprising for an animated feature made accessible to a younger audience. Having said that, this is increasingly common in western animation following weeps shed during Pixar favourites ‘Up’, and ‘Inside Out’. Studio Ghibli is also no stranger to more adult themes; 2013’s ‘The Wind Rises‘ being in the midst of WW2 tragedy, whilst the more notable ‘Princess Mononoke‘ has a dark tone and again shows us violence/injury.
There aren’t many dark themes in ‘The Red Turtle‘, but the film is seemingly about mortality and the potential of the individual against nature. The real problematic element of it is how the turtle character becomes gendered. If you have any issue with the idea of a heteronormative family unit, this is probably not going to reach your must-see list.
For that reason, I had difficulties in following the characterisation of the protagonist. As one of few human characters, it should’ve been easy to care about his aims and attitudes as the narrative progressed. However, all of the story involving the development of turtle (of the title) becomes impossible to get past.
It is disappointing that with such a promising combination of production values (the intricate illustration, the imaginative setting, the bold score by Laurent Perez Del Mar) that the narrative feels a little too gendered, and male centric. All things considered, there are some interesting themes and ideas at stake. In addition, I’d say that some of the sequences have distinct nuances I haven’t seen before.
An interesting and visually impressive animated feature. Worth your time from an aesthetic point of view, although prepare for it to be loaded with a series of characterisation issues.
Animation, Fantasy | Netherlands/Japan 2016 | PG | 26th May 2017 (UK) | Studiocanal | Dir. Michael Dudok de Wit |Emmanuel Garijo, Tom Hudson, Baptiste Goy