The Red Turtle
Review by Paul Byrne
4.0Dialogue-free delight

THE RED TURTLE (France/Belgium/Japan/PG/80mins)
Directed by Michael Dudok de Wit. Starring Emmanuel Garijo, Tom Hudson, Baptiste Goy, Axel Devillers, Barbara Beretta
THE PLOT: Shipwrecked on a tropical island, an unnamed man manages to source fruit and water to survive, and is soon building a raft. Setting sail, a mysterious attack from below batters the raft asunder, and the man is forced to swim back to shore. Only to repeat the entire process again. And again. Eventually, the source of the attacks, a large red turtle, is spotted by the man, and when he happens upon the turtle on the island’s beach, he decides to take revenge…
THE VERDICT: Although ‘The Red Turtle’ is from the mighty Studio Ghibli, it plays far more like a European animated offering, in the vein of ‘The Man Who Planted Trees’ or even Biggs line-drawn beauties.
Actually the work of Dutch-born filmmaker Michael Dudok de Wit, who studied animation in England before serving time with London’s Richard Purdum Productions in the 1980s and then the Folimage studio in France. It was here that he produced the 1994 short ‘The Monk And The Fish’ (about a friar’s desperate pursuit of a fish through abstract landscapes), before moving to England and producing the Oscar-winning 2000 short ‘Father And Daughter’ (about a woman’s lifelong yearning for her absent father). The shorts caught the eye of Ghibli, a major influence on de Wit, and they got in touch. Happy for de Wit to make his film in Europe, and to have total control over the production, Ghibli were keen to stress that this didn’t have to be a Ghibli production, so to speak.
That the resulting film has its own particular style and pace is proof of that, and testament to Ghibli’s pure love of animation. Exploiting the brand has never been one of their weaknesses.
There will be some who will find de Wit’s film a little too slow and fable-esque, especially given that there’s no dialogue throughout, but, if you’re willing to let yourself go, and float down stream here with ‘The Red Turtle’.
Review by Paul Byrne

  • filmbuff2011

    Rumours of Studio Ghibli’s death appear to have been greatly exaggerated. The much-admired Japanese animation studio has ventured forth with its first international co-production, The Red Turtle. And what a wondrous thing it is.

    Out on the high seas, a shipwrecked man is caught in huge swells. He comes to rest on the shore of a deserted island. His only companions seem to be the friendly crabs who follow him around. He quickly determines that he needs to build a raft and set sail again. However, he’s thwarted by a large red turtle who destroys his raft. And again. And again. The man grows increasingly frustrated by this, yet the red turtle never actually harms him. When an opportunity presents itself, he takes his revenge on the red turtle… but then something else happens. Something he couldn’t have anticipated. Something that will enrich his life beyond anything he could have imagined. The red turtle had a purpose in keeping him on the island…

    Debuting Dutch director Michael Dudok de Wit couldn’t believe his luck when Studio Ghibli asked him to make a film for them. While only six Studio Ghibli animators worked on the film, it very much bears the hallmarks of a Studio Ghibli production. The Tintin-style animation is simple but expressive, anchored by a very human story. Apart from a few shouts, grunts and occasional human noises, The Red Turtle is dialogue-free. As with Pixar’s Wall-E, this works in the film’s favour. Words don’t even seem necessary when the animation is this gorgeous and enveloping – just look at those sunsets. The story is warm enough to touch even the coldest of hearts too. A shipwrecked man is a familiar story, but de Wit and Studio Ghibli put their own distinctive stamp on it, with a few magical elements gently placed in too.

    It’s surprising that The Red Turtle didn’t scoop the Best Animated Feature Oscar earlier this year. It’s a charming tale, very simply told in an open-handed manner. Yet, it also speaks of grand themes about isolation, companionship, love, family and hope. That makes the film so much more than a survival story. It’s also quite tense at times, as the man tries to escape from an underwater cave or the looming tsunami that threatens all life on the island. It might be too over-the-heads of young children more used to talking animals and squeaky minions. But fans of Studio Ghibli and artistic animation with soul should seek out The Red Turtle. Its simple message of a man’s legacy in the face of adversity will resonate long after the credits roll. An enchanting, quietly majestic triumph. ****