A showcase of both nature’s power to destroy as well as create, The Red Turtle is a vividly animated and touching tale of isolation, survival, and love. The Red Turtle is the debut feature film from Oscar award-winning animator, Michael Dudok de Wit, produced in conjunction with German studio Wild Bunch as well as the world-renowned Japanese animation studio, Studio Ghibli.
Despite The Red Turtle’s roots in classic animation with a family friendly storyline, the film is unlike any other Ghibli-related work to date. With zero dialogue in the movie, the artistic and narrative direction taken by The Red Turtle is far more rooted in the world of art house films than standard children’s animation. Thus, the movie’s story unravels at a slow pace that asks viewers to use their imaginations to fill in the blanks of the plot.
At its core, The Red Turtle is the story of a man lost at sea who washes up on the shores of a deserted island. Without any dialogue, the film asks audiences to play close attention to its musical cues and beautifully animated environments to evoke emotion. A traditional screenplay does not feel necessary for the story Dudok de Wit is telling, where understanding the nuances in how the main character interacts with nature is central to the message. To accept nature is to both respect its unpredictable dangers and cherish its beauty, and the animals and environments end up serving in a supporting role to the lost man’s tale of survival.
The use of dream sequences and surreal experiences on the island transform the shipwrecked man’s seemingly simple tale of survival into one of understanding human nature as well as love. Knowing that this film deals with the cyclical nature of life — birth, growing older, love, and death — will better help audiences appreciate its message. While the lack of dialogue may come across as confusing or even boring, especially in the film’s first quarter, as events reveal themselves, the viewers’ patience will be rewarded by the film’s climax. Like a timeless fairy-tale, filled with lush animation and a beautiful narrative, The Red Turtle says much about the world without uttering a single word.