MOVIE REVIEW: ‘The Red Turtle’ is a devastatingly beautiful animated film

Stark and dialogue-free, this French-Japanese animated film from Studio Ghibli hits you right in the gut

| February 23, 2017

I bet you didn’t know there was another Studio Ghibli film hitting Charlotte-area theaters soon, did you? I sure didn’t. When reports of “The Red Turtle” surfaced from film festivals, it felt distinctly like another GKIDS-released obscure animated films audiences would ignore once again, but to my surprise, it’s a Sony Pictures Classics release that audiences will ignore once again, but by all means, I implore you not to if possible. It wasn’t until I saw the Studio Ghibli logo at the start of the film (decked out in red instead of their typical blue) that I even knew of their involvement. Being the first film they’ve developed outside of Japan, the beauty of “The Red Turtle” comes in its deeper themes seen so often in French cinema, with the panache that only Studio Ghibli could pull off.

“The Red Turtle” is a film completely devoid of any dialogue whatsoever, making it a seemingly universal film that uses artistic measures to tell its story in lieu of words. We follow a young man, who finds himself trapped on a deserted island after an intense storm wrecks his boat. After many attempts to escape the island on a raft, he finds himself constantly foiled by a red turtle who consistently destroys his raft before escaping. After the turtle surfaces on the shore, the young man begins to find that there is a life for him on this island after a mysterious woman appears after the turtle mysteriously vanishes.

“The Red Turtle” sounds like it could be a boring film if not done correctly, but it couldn’t be more of the opposite here. This is a grand film that explores the beauty that life holds for those who open up their hearts to it, rather than obsessing over things they don’t have. The themes explored in the film might be a bit heavy to take your young child to, but it’s the perfect gateway into serious films for young film-lovers who wish to expand their horizons. This is the farthest thing from an American animated film, as it doesn’t wish to appeal to children, but to those who still hold an innocent level of youth in their hearts. This film is full of wonder and heartbreak, life and loss, love and happiness, all in the span of 80 minutes on a single island with no dialogue. This is storytelling at its most impressively primal.

“The Red Turtle” doesn’t look lie a typical Studio Ghibli film, but it’s gorgeous regardless. I actually quite like the change in aesthetic for the animation house, as it shows that no matter how heard they try to convince the public that their body of work is exhausted, they always come back for more with even more innovation. By all technicalities, “The Red Turtle” isn’t a pretty film, as its dark and dingy at times, but the context of the story makes for a quirky, yet effective relationship between the artistic design and the thematic material of the film, as it’s all “The Red Turtle” has, and it does so with only what could be described as a master’s stroke.

Even more impressively, “The Red Turtle” comes from London-based Dutch animator Michaël Dudok de Wit, which is his first feature-length film to date. Much like Jordan Peele in “Get Out,” this film has the brand of a master, with the optimism of a rookie. Everything in “The Red Turtle” is beautifully crafted inside and out, with every component working in tandem with each other to create a devastatingly beautiful film that hits you both in your heart and in your gut.

Lacking many of the things that make up a normal film, it’s hard to discuss the inner machinations of “The Red Turtle” without spoiling the whole experience for you, which is nearly everything for “The Red Turtle.” Having been able to catch the film on an early screener, I feel like I only got a portion of the beauty that “The Red Turtle” offers, but to experience it on a big screen seems to be the only way to experience “The Red Turtle” for everything its meant to mean and portray. This is a step out of the ordinary for Studio Ghibli, as well as Sony Pictures Classics, but it’s a risk that pays off tenfold in the execution of the final product. So why are you still skeptical about taking a chance on a film like this? Perhaps a step out of the ordinary could do us all a bit of good.

4.5/5

Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

Directed by: Michaël Dudok de Wit
Runtime: 80 minutes
Rating: PG for some thematic elements and peril.
Now playing exclusively at Regal Park Terrace.

A Sony Pictures Classics release, Wild Bunch and Studio Ghibli present, in association with Why Not Productions, “The Red Turtle,” a film by Michaël Dudok de Wit, a Why Not Productions, Wild Bunch, Studio Ghibli, CN4 Productions, Arte France Cinéma, Belvision production, with the support of Eurimages, with the participation of Canal+, Ciné+, Arte France, Region Poitou-Charentes, Department de la Charente, Region Wallonne, Fondation Gan pour le Cinéma, in association with Cineimage 9, Palatine Étoile 11, Palatine Étoile 12, BNP, Paribas Fortis Film Finance

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Category:Arts and Entertainment, Film

Hunter Heilman Hunter is the current editor-in-chief for The Niner Times. He is a senior Communications major who wishes he were a dog and wants to pet your dog if you have one. Hunter has been a member of the North Carolina Film Critics Association (NCFCA) since August 2015. Hunter has been the editor-in-chief since May 2016. Please do not hesitate to shoot him an e-mail at editor@ninertimes.com for any questions or concerns and he'll be sure to get back to you ASAP.

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Hunter Heilman Hunter is the current editor-in-chief for The Niner Times. He is a senior Communications major who wishes he were a dog and wants to pet your dog if you have one. Hunter has been a member of the North Carolina Film Critics Association (NCFCA) since August 2015. Hunter has been the editor-in-chief since May 2016. Please do not hesitate to shoot him an e-mail at editor@ninertimes.com for any questions or concerns and he'll be sure to get back to you ASAP.

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