Studio Ghibli has built a sterling reputation as the premiere example of Japanese animation. That makes The Red Turtle a bit of a surprise for fans of the studio: it’s the first non-Japanese production they’ve released. Created by Dutch-British writer/director Michaël Dudok De Wit, The Red Turtle follows an animation style that’s more reminiscent of Hergé’s Tintin than anything the studio’s released in the past. But the film is still a fit for the studio, based on the quality of the film itself.
The Red Turtle follows a man who’s deserted on an island as he learns to make peace with his situation. The man is resourceful enough to build multiple rafts, but each time he tries to take one out on the sea, he’s met with misfortune. At the center of the problems is a red turtle who, for some reason, won’t let him leave. When the turtle appears to die from exposure and dehydration, though, it transforms into a woman. When the man connects with the woman, he stops trying to escape, and builds a life with her over the course of decades that also includes a child they conceive.
In a time where animation studios rely more and more on computer-animated releases, the hand-drawn nature of The Red Turtle is refreshing in and of itself. But The Red Turtle makes this animation choice a way to make its imagery bold, with roughly-drawn characters set against lush backdrops. The vibrancy of the film is apparent in still shots, and is breathtaking in motion. And while the film is a foreign production, there’s no real dialogue to dub or translate – aside from an occasional “Hey!”, the only sounds the audience hears are from nature sounds and a beautiful score.
In spite of its format and relatively brief runtime, The Red Turtle isn’t necessarily a film for children (though there’s nothing objectionable about the film at all). Rather, the film’s pacing may prove challenging for children (or adults) who’ve grown accustomed to more fast-paced features. For audiences willing to give the film some patience, though, The Red Turtle is a beautiful and dreamy wonder.