Animation: wordless magic in The Red Turtle

Published On May 8, 2017 | By Garth Cremona | Awards, Film TV & Theatre, Reviews

The Red Turtle,
Directed by Michaël Dudok de Wit

The new film from Studio Ghibli (in conjunction with Wild Bunch) tells the story of a man who is shipwrecked on a deserted island. As he tries to survive and then escape his efforts are hampered by a giant red turtle. When the beast comes ashore the man attacks it, which changes his life forever, and gives him a bigger gift than getting off the island.

I always say that 80% to 90% of the films that we get to watch as reviewers are in the middle of the road, or sadly below that, when it comes to scoring them. We don’t score films on here by stars, well, we do sometimes in our heads, but most are in the mid range. Then you get that 10% to 20% which hit above the middle, which strike at your love for cinema and make everything worthwhile. The Red Turtle is one of the top of the top films that you will ever see. It’s just a total lullaby to your soul.

Told without dialogue, which I only found out about moments before sitting down in the Lighthouse Cinema to watch the film, I found it really didn’t need any words. I’m not a huge fan of Studio Ghibli films; I loved The Wind Rises, but this film could convert even the most cynical of film lovers. I know a lot of people that would never go to see an animated film, be it Disney, be it The Minions, but I can say without fear that anyone that calls themselves a cinema lover will be transfixed by this film. The story is simple and magical, taking the shipwreck survivor story, similar to Castaway with Tom Hanks, and adding that magic element that Studio Ghibli can muster with ease. The end result is a complete story that you are just enchanted with.

The animation appears to be simplistic by the standards that are usually on display in your local multiplex, and maybe it’s because there is no dialogue, but you start to concentrate on the visuals, on the animation more and more. Every element is thought about, from the elements that are around the island, to the animals that are interacting with our survivor. The crabs that live on the beach with the survivor become his closest friends for the first half of the film. Then we have the sinister, or at least it seems sinister, red turtle itself. When it starts to hamper the escape plan of the survivor you don’t know if you are getting a Jaws type film, or The Old Man and the Sea; what happens for the second half of the eighty minute running time brings the wonder that Studio Ghibli is renowned for (apparently Miyazaki sought out De Wit after seeing a short by the young director). The film becomes truly enchanting and I sat there for the rest of the running time and smiled.

With the latter scenes of the film I can only say that my emotions took over and I thought about the story of my own life, the journey of love and living, and the end of all things. It got that profound folks. The final moments of the Survivor just broke my heart and then you start to question if the story was real, magic, or a man trying to cope with the isolation and lack of human interaction. As with everything I believed in magic.

This is going to be high up there on the top ten list of films the year, and in May that is a strong statement to make. While it’s one you can bring all members of the family to, it’s also one that suits going to the cinema on your own, the quiet contemplation and the message of what we really need in our lives will be a sweet sensation for a busy life. I’m going back to see this on release and will be buying copies of the DVD/BluRays for people this Christmas.

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About The Author

Garth Cremona
Garth Cremona is an Irish writer, as well as reviewer of films, comics and books

One Response to Animation: wordless magic in The Red Turtle

  1. The trailer for this came on when I went to see Manchester By The Sea and I was struck by just how exquisitely beautiful it was. The trailer left me feeling I’d just seen the entire story, or at least three-fourths of it, but it still left me wanting more because it wasn’t just the story itself. It was the way the animation told it that caught me.