The Red Turtle (2016) Sony Pictures Classics/Fantasy-Drama-Adventure RT: 80 minutes Rated PG (some thematic elements and peril) Director: Michael Dudok de Wit Screenplay: Michael Dudok de Wit and Pascal Ferran Music: Laurent Perez del Mar Release date: January 20, 2017 (US)
If Terence Malik ever branched out into animation, he’d probably turn out something like The Red Turtle, a gorgeous meditation on man’s relationship with the natural environment. Co-produced by Studio Ghibli, the Japanese animation company responsible for Princess Mononoke, The Wind Rises and When Marnie Was There, The Red Turtle is a completely word-free affair. That’s right, there is NO dialogue save for the occasional vocalization or scream. Who needs words when images say far more?
The storyline is simplicity itself. A nameless man, after being tossed about on a stormy sea, washes up on a deserted island. He’s alone except for a few comical sand crabs. He looks around and decides his best bet would be building a raft from bamboo provided by a dense forest and leave. Each time he sets sail, a large unseen creature destroys the raft, forcing the castaway to swim back to the island and start all over again. He finally spots the culprit, a large red sea turtle. I don’t wait to ruin it so I’ll just say that a beautiful woman eventually enters the picture and causes the man to reconsider leaving the island.
The Red Turtle starts off as a variation of Robinson Crusoe and turns into something quite magical and lyrical. It’s more than just a mere cartoon for kids, it’s a fable about the connection between man and nature. Instead of fighting it, man should cooperate with it. The woman is the personification of nature. What director Michael Dudok de Wit (making his first feature-length film) is trying to say is that man and “nature” aren’t enemies but rather two beings that occupy the same world. It’s better to co-exist than work against each other. It’s also a beautiful love story that illustrates the never-ending cycle of life. It’s amazing that a movie aimed at children has so much deep meaning to it. It teaches valuable lessons without any help from anthropomorphic animals and singing demi-gods.
The traditional, hand-drawn animation in The Red Turtle is flawless. Visually, it’s a true work of art. I realize that computer-animation looks more lifelike and all but there’s something to be said for illustrations rendered by pen and brush. The male protagonist has black-dot eyes, lanky figure and bushy beard. The female has long, flowing red hair and a shapely figure. The titular creature is a majestic being. Hand-drawn animation is a perfect way to present the story. Many of the images, like one of the human characters swimming with turtles, are strikingly beautiful. There’s always something going on to catch the viewer’s eye whether it’s sand crabs scuttling about, bamboo shoots gently swaying in the wind or a sudden rainstorm.
The Red Turtle is a simple tale with deep themes. It gives the viewer much to think about. Life need not be so complicated; all it takes is getting back in touch with nature. We don’t know what the man’s life was like before he came to reside on the island but one suspects that his current dilemma has somehow removed a great weight from his shoulders. I can see why The Red Turtle is up for this year’s Best Animated Film Oscar. It’s simply excellent.