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The Red Turtle – Movie Review

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The Red Turtle – Movie Review

Rating: A- (Great)

Trailer/Thumbnail Courtesy A-Z Films

Studio Ghibli has throughout its over thirty year history mostly stuck to its inner circle with the animated features they have produced. The Red Turtle marks their first time collaborating with an outside studio and filmmaker and the result is just as lovely as their in-house works. As directed by Michael Dudok de Wit, The Red Turtle does not adhere to normal animated movie rules. It opts for a very down to earth touch with its environment and the few characters that inhabit the island. This is a perfect example of how animation is in many ways a superior form of storytelling than regular old live-action filmmaking. As a live-action film, this would have been dreadfully dull. As an animated film, The Red Turtle uses the beauty of the drawn environments to shine a light on its multi-faceted characters.

This is a slower paced film than one might expect., but that’s a part of its beauty. With the freedom afforded by animation, de Wit creates an amazing environment on this desert island and yet still understands the rules this island operates by. The sound effects play a key role in enveloping us in the atmosphere and bringing a soothing nature to many scenes. The sound does more to tell the story than dialogue would have. Having the few people in this film speak would have robbed The Red Turtle of its specialness. The body language of the main castaway says so much about him as he struggles with regret and sanity.

This is not a mere desert island story, but one with love and de Wit communicates that tremendously with the two leads. So many questions are swirling through our heads, but there is not a tremendous rush to answer them, which is unbelievably refreshing. The ambiguity and room for interpretation is handled to marvelous effect by de Wit. There is so much left to unpack and think about, which is what the best fairy tales set out to do. That’s what The Red Turtle ultimately is: a fairy tale with morals and ideas with which we can learn to live our life

Laurent Perez Del Mar’s operatic score plays a further role in absorbing one in the film. The Red Turtle is almost like a ballet in how the music accompanies the character animation. Eventually, the film also becomes a story about parenthood and growing up with the young offspring of the two islanders becoming a pivotal character with his own special arc. It only makes sense when he eventually overshadows his parents and the audience’s focus shifts towards him. One almost starts to think about oneself and the journey we ourselves take and the role our parents have in shaping us.

The Red Turtle represents another unique triumph from Studio Ghibli and what a stroke of genius it was to collaborate with Michael Dudok de Wit. The dialogue-less approach of the story fits beautifully with the scenery, with themes the viewer will unravel and think about long after the screening is over. In a year filled with many animated triumphs, this deserves to sit high up there as a special achievement in a medium that continues to evolve and grow. This is the work of artists coming together to tell a story wonderfully suited to animation and is another clear case for how the medium is a superior art form in many ways.


Stefan Ellison

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