The Red Turtle may only be a co-production from legendary animator Studio Ghibli, but its humanist sensibilities and beautiful simplicity will be familiar. That simplicity hides complex truths about pain, loneliness, loss, and family, in a story that is startlingly real yet full of amazing wonders. If this is the only time we get to see Studio Ghibli and Dutch director/animator Michaël Dudok de Wit collaborate at least they've left us with a transcendent masterpiece that speaks volumes without saying a word.
Without dialogue to distract us from the breath-taking animation and the deep emotions they depict, The Red Turtle is a movie meant to be experienced. The largely symbolic story follows a nameless man whose ship endures heavy storms, only to wreck on a deserted island. He has the basic necessities to survive, but soon loneliness and despair take root. At the edge of sanity he makes a desperate gamble to leave, only to find his meticulously crafted vessel destroyed by the titular creature. But in that moment before it happened, there was something between them, some kind of connection. Enraged, the man returns to the island and lashes out violently in the way humans, although we call those who do so "animals".
It wouldn't be right to go into more detail because the simple plot keeps finding new ways to surprise. His outburst yields unexpectedly magical results, the kind you might expect from one of Studio Ghibli's more fanciful efforts. The Red Turtle is a perfect synthesis of Ghibli's fantastical classics like Spirited Away with their quieter, down-to-earth efforts such as Only Yesterday. The man soon gains the company of a woman who gives him the intangible things the island can't provide. But there are risks and responsibilities that come with caring for another, and soon they face dangers that threaten their love and the island as a whole.
Motivated by nature's glory, Dudok de Wit infuses each scene with sensory waypoints that draw us deeper into this isolated little world. A charcoal black sky preludes the man's baser instincts, while an army of seacrabs make for joyous companions. With only one foot kept in reality, the ease with which we accept some of the incredible twists that occur is a testament to Dudok de Wit's immersive capabilities.
At 90 minutes, The Red Turtle will move too slow for some, but honestly I doubt those people are seeking this film out, anyway. They should reconsider, because missing out on a film so rich in its examination of life's struggles would be tragic in a way words can't describe.
Rating: 4 out of 5