The Red Turtle is a dialogue-less animated film with deep symbolic themes and beautiful animation, though some might find it hard to get through.
A man washes ashore on an unnamed desert island. Left to his own volitions he tries and tries again to leave the island without success. He meets a giant red turtle, setting off a surreal chain of events leading to a journey of love, life, and death.
For an animated film with no dialogue and such profound themes, The Red Turtle manages to succeed in conveying each of its messages, as ambiguous as they may be. The first act of the film is straightforward enough to follow, though once our shipwrecked hero meets the red turtle, things start to turn strange, leaving you wondering if the film’s protagonist has lost his mind, which wouldn’t be too much of a stretch if you want to look at the film from a logical standpoint.
However, that’s not really the point of the film. Once you can sit back and roll with what director Michael Dudok de Wit is showing you, only then can you truly appreciate what this film is, a beautiful looking and touching story of perseverance in the face of adversity, in each stage of the life cycle.
Dudok de Wit’s film is a co-production with the Japanese animation powerhouse Studio Ghibli and it clearly shows in the film why Ghibli were interested in co-producing with the French director. The animation is gorgeous. It’s basic hand-drawn lines are a bit uncommon these days, so it’s great to see some animators still adopting that style, as it makes for a unique artistic expression in a world where we are inundated with heavily animated 3D models in most of our feature-length animated films. The film also falls in line with the same sentimentality of other Studio Ghibli films, with its cute caricatures and deep and meaningful themes.
The Red Turtle is a rewarding experience overall, however it requires patience. In a film that relies purely on visuals, the story is key. Thankfully the story here has enough in it to hold your attention, though some might find it tedious.
Studio Ghibli sent Michael Dudok de Wit an email with two questions: if they could distribute his short film ‘Father and Daughter’ in Japan, and if he would make a feature film for them. Dudok de Wit replied answering the first question and saying he did not understand the second, as he was baffled and could not believe it.