On the strength of his astonishing award-winning animated short film from 2000, Father and Daughter, Dutch animator Michaël Dudok de Wit came to the attention of Japanese animation legend Hayao Miyazaki who not only wanted to meet de Wit, but wanted to get in cahoots with him for a Studio Ghibli project. That project would eventually become The Red Turtle, a gorgeously rendered fable of simple purity, and while it may have a few familiar elements, it’s nonetheless a powerful, unpredictable, and moving experience.
Animated in a condensed yet hyper-detailed style that bears the irrefutable influence of French artist and cartoonist Mœbius, de Wit’s The Red Turtle concerns itself with the struggles of a nameless man who’s been shipwrecked on a deserted island. Via finespun hand-drawn images and vibrant use of color, our castaway at first finds risk and peril on the island before he eventually finds sustenance there, too. There’s a dreamlike storybook awareness to the film, though the rhythmic and subtlety of the plot is such that to say too much would give it up entirely.
The titular sea turtle makes numerous ominous appearances and begins to manifest in the rich fantasy world the castaway develops. At times the turtle is almost like a leviathan archetype, and there’s almost something of the Irish and Orcadian folklore of selkies in the understated magical realism that results.
The life on the island is captured with such rapturous beauty, care, and precision, and when the story moves into night scenes there’s a palpable magic in the faded grays and the silvery moon. Skittering crabs, soaring birds, and other denizens move and gambol with exuberance. It’s sheer poetry.
De Witt co-wrote The Red Turtle with French director Pascale Ferran (Bird People), and their allegorical fantasy is completely unburdened with any dialogue. It does take some getting used to perhaps, as this approach is so far removed from what Pixar is doing, for instance, and stylistically it’s not like much in the Studio Ghibli canon, either. No, The Red Turtle is kind of all on it’s own; a vivid, gilt-edged, little gem.
Taste of Cinema Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)
Author Bio: Shane Scott-Travis is a film critic, screenwriter, comic book author/illustrator and cineaste. Currently residing in Vancouver, Canada, Shane can often be found at the cinema, the dog park, or off in a corner someplace, paraphrasing Groucho Marx. Follow Shane on Twitter @ShaneScottravis.