Review: ‘The Red Turtle’

(© Studio Ghibli – Wild Bunch – Why Not Productions – Arte France Cinéma – CN4 Productions – Belvision)


Studio Ghibli’s The Red Turtle is a hypnotic, meditative, and symbolic treatise on life.

The film tells the story of a man who gets shipwrecked on a desert island. He tries multiple times to escape, but he keeps getting thwarted by a large and mysterious red turtle. Anger and then submission lead the man into a life on the island that he couldn’t have imagined–a life full of beauty, love, loss, and peace. (Sorry to be so vague, but I really don’t want to reveal much as to spoil your movie going experience.) There is no dialogue in the film–the entire story is told through animation and music–yet the art symbolically and beautifully tells the story of one human family which can be applied to all of us.

The Red Turtle is the first feature film of Michael Dudok de Wit, British/Dutch animator and winner of an Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film for his short Father and Daughter. Michael collaborated with producer Isao Takahata from Studio Ghibli in Japan on the project, but the animation was done in France at Prima Linea Productions. The film was co-produced by an international group of companies, including Studio Ghibli, Wild Bunch, Why Not Productions, Arte France Cinéma, CN4 Productions, and Belvision.

While done with a hand-drawn animated aesthetic, the animators used digital tools throughout the film’s production process. Instead of the traditional 10 months or so required to animate a feature film, the production team used a smaller group of artists and took over two years to complete the final version of the film. The humans and most of the animals were animated using Cintiq digital pens. The gorgeous backgrounds were drawn by hand using charcoal on paper and then digitized. According to the press materials, only the rafts and the turtles were digitally animated. The ethereal music written by Laurent Perez Del Mar also adds to the feeling and emotions conveyed by the artists in the film.

Watching The Red Turtle felt like going to an art museum–each image required thought, each image conveyed an interesting look at the world through the eyes of another, and each image shed a metaphorical light on the challenges and beauties of the human experience.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

(© Studio Ghibli – Wild Bunch – Why Not Productions – Arte France Cinéma – CN4 Productions – Belvision)

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