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Director: Michael Dudok de Wit (Father and Daughter)
Synopsis:Academy Award Nominee, Best Animated Feature! This dialogue-less film from the legendary Studio Ghibli follows the major life stages of a nameless castaway of dubious origins who washes ashore on a deserted tropical island. The situation quickly goes from bad to worse as he battles the natural elements to survive, but hope arrives when he encounters and develops a bond with the hulking beast of the title. "A visually stunning poetic fable and animated marvel."--Los Angeles Times
Running Time: 81 Minutes (plus 8-10 minutes of trailers)
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A Quiet Little Masterpiece
By Eric Kohn
Few artistic collaborations yield the perfect synthesis of sensibilities found in "The Red Turtle," a touching animated ode to the cycle of life directed by acclaimed Dutch animator Michaël Dudok de Wit with the assistance of Japan’s Studio Ghibli. In tune with Dudok de Wit’s Oscar-winning short "Father and Daughter," this slim, wordless feature offers another touching odyssey about loneliness and the resilience of family bonds. At the same time, it showcases the best ways in which Studio Ghibli productions maintain a certain elegant simplicity that points to deeper truths. This is a quiet little masterpiece of images, each one rich with meaning, that collectively speak to a universal process.
On the most basic level, the premise of "The Red Turtle" would be best described as Robinson Crusoe meets "All is Lost," as it follows a nameless island castaway of dubious origins attempting to make do with his deserted new home. However, Dudok de Wit’s script — co-written by Pascale Ferran, whose otherworldly drama "Bird People" operates on a similar ethereal plane — builds this initial setup into a series of majestic, fantastical developments that press further and further into the allegorical realm.
But the movie strikes a symbolic note from its very first images, as the wayward character tumbles through a series of violent waves, eventually arriving at a barren, sandy landscape filled with rocks and trees but little else. In short order, his situation goes from bad to worse, as he navigates a trepidatious underwater cave and scrounges sustenance. The delicate hand-drawn animation imbues the plain, charcoal-drawn gold-and-blue scenery with a storybook feel that helps set the stage for the more audacious twists to come.
Just as our hero faces a desperate scenario, seeing visions in the dead of night and screaming to the wind, he makes a break for it on a wooden raft — and abruptly encounters the hulking beast of the title. Back on the shore, the creature follows him home, leading to a magical twist that complicates the narrative once more. The details of the ensuing plot are so slim that too much description threatens to ruin its entire trajectory. Needless to say, the castaway finds the company of a woman and starts a family. No longer so alone, he adapts to a new sense of security, only to face a whole new set of developments that threatens the island’s future as a whole. Even in this majestic universe, stability is a myth.
Story matters less in "The Red Turtle" than the expressionistic moments strewn throughout. Dudok de Wit never lacks for visual inspiration, enriches his island setting with a Greek chorus of crabs skittering across the sand and a fleet of sea turtles that steadily become the guardians to this self-made kingdom. At night, the colors fade to shades of gray, as the island residents gaze up at the moon; the deep greens of the inner forest shimmer with bright-red hues. Capturing the island life both from intimate closeups and high above, Dudok de Wit orchestrates a geographical orientation that allows the world to adhere to a wondrous internal logic. Even a series of miraculous twists seem to emerge organically from this textured world, merging the clarity of their symbolism with an emotional specificity that requires no heavy analysis. The movie speaks in its own enlightened voice.
The success of "The Red Turtle" marks a well-timed victory for Studio Ghibli at a transitional moment: It has reached completion not long after the concluding output of its two biggest names, Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata. While not aping the style of those long-established masters, "The Red Turtle" displays a similar attentiveness to making profound gestures without an iota of overstatement. With hardly more than a handful of shouts and grunts, "The Red Turtle" elicits powerful ideas about the struggle for contentment at every turn. Words are never enough, but "The Red Turtle" finds a way to rise above them.
Copyright 2016 INdiewire
'The Red Turtle' is a wonderful, wordless animated marvel
By Kenneth Turan
“The Red Turtle” is a visually stunning poetic fable, but there’s more on its mind than simply beauty.
The first full-length work by Oscar-winning Dutch filmmaker Michael Dudok de Wit and a prize-winner at Cannes, this is an immersive, meditative animated feature that is concerned with the rhythms of the natural world and the mysteries and wonders of ordinary life.
With a simple, uncluttered visual look that manages to be realistic as well as gorgeous, “The Red Turtle’s” story of a nameless man shipwrecked on an uninhabited island has no lack of dramatic adventures and threatening events.
But, as befits a dialogueless work that mixes Laurent Perez del Mar’s fluid score with the ambient sounds of the physical world, “The Red Turtle” intends to enlarge our spirit as well as dazzle us, and in this it succeeds.
Dudok De Wit, who won the best animated short Oscar in 2000 for the lovely and moving “Father and Daughter,” was in fact perfectly content to avoid features altogether until he received an offer he couldn’t refuse, an email so unexpected he initially wondered if it was a prank.
As he related in an interview at Cannes, the animator got an out-of-the-blue message from Studio Ghibli co-founder and legendary Japanese director Isao Takahata (“The Tale of Princess Kaguya,” “Grave of the Fireflies”) offering him the chance to be the first non-Japanese animator to make a film for the revered studio. “His participation,” Dudok de Wit said simply, “meant I must make a feature.”
Someone who prefers to work slowly with a small team, Dudok de Wit spent nine years on “The Red Turtle,” at one point bringing in top French screenwriter Pascale Ferran (who shares adaptation credit with the director) to fine tune the story.
Though “The Red Turtle” has strong parable elements, dealing finally with the very nature of existence, Dudok de Wit has taken care to make the film’s presentation as vividly real as it is symbolic.
The director even went so far as to live on one of the smaller Seychelles islands, taking literally thousands of photos that proved invaluable to the team of animators working on “Red Turtle’s” look and feel.
The film opens with an unnamed man being tossed and turned on a stormy sea, the lone survivor, presumably, of an unseen shipwreck. He washes ashore, Robinson Crusoe-style, on a deserted island in the middle of nowhere.
Happy to be alive, the man gradually explores his refuge, climbing its highest point, swimming in its coastal pools, discovering plentiful food and water but realizing, except for a Greek chorus of curious sand crabs, that he is completely alone.
Determined to leave the island and rejoin the world’s humanity, the man painstakingly builds a raft, slowly joining bamboo stalk to bamboo stalk and even fashioning a serviceable sail.
But he doesn’t account for an enormous ocean-going red turtle, which gives the man a baleful reptilian look and definitely has ideas of its own, which is about all anyone should know plot-wise about how this singular endeavor plays out.
What should be known is that the beauty of “The Red Turtle’s” images holds us and pulls us in. Though that turtle itself was so huge it had to be computer animated, everything else was done by hand using Cintiq, a digital pen that allows you to draw on a tablet that is also a monitor.
The island’s lush forests and expansive open spaces, the ocean’s superb turquoise immensity, they’re all depicted with the kind of visual grace that makes it clear why Studio Ghibli knew Dudok de Wit’s work would be a good fit.
It is the gift of “The Red Turtle” to simply unfold as it’s experienced by its nameless protagonist. It is less the adventure of a lifetime than the adventure of life, with all the wonder that implies.