Sat, 15 Aug 2020

The Red Turtle (La tortue rouge)

Director: Michael Dudok de Wit
Screenplay: Pascale Ferran & Michael Dudok de Wit (story by Michael Dudok de Wit)

Stars: Emmanuel Garijo (The Father), Tom Hudson (The Son as a Young Adult), Baptiste Goy (The Son as a Child), Axel Devillers (The Baby), Barbara Beretta (The Mother)
MPAA Rating: PG
Year of Release: 2016
Country: France / Belgium / Japan
The Red Turtle

The Red Turtle

Michael Dudok de Wit's beautiful, dialogue-free animated fable The Red Turtle (La tortue rouge), which was awarded a Special Jury Prize at last year's Cannes Film Festival, was also nominated for the Oscar for Best Animated Feature, which eventually went to Disney's Zootopia. Zootopia's crowning came as little surprise given that, since the Academy started giving a separate Oscar for animated features in 2001, Disney, Pixar, or DreamWorks films have been awarded 13 of the 16 statues, with two of the remaining three going to Paramount and Warner Bros. releases. The lone standout from the otherwise unbroken string of awards going to major Hollywood productions is Hayao Miyazaki's Spirited Away (2001), which was produced by Japan's Studio Ghibli, although it was distributed in the U.S. by-you guessed it-Disney. In other words, it is all too clear that feature animation in the U.S. doesn't get much attention unless it emerges from one of the "Big Three," which is a shame because it means that marvelous, but frankly less commercial films like The Red Turtle often end up flying under the radar and not getting the attention they deserve.

Dudok de Wit's film originated with a phone call in 2008 from Studio Ghibli asking for Japanese distribution rights to the Dutch-British animator's 2000 film Father and Daughter, which won an Oscar for Best Animated Short. The studio also asked to work with him on a feature-length production, and eight years later, Dudok de Wit completed The Red Turtle, his first-but hopefully not his last-animated feature. The entire films takes place on and around a deserted island that is initially inhabited by a nameless man who we first see struggling in the violent ocean swells during a storm. We know-and learn-nothing about this man's background, including where he's from and how he ended up stranded in the ocean (we can surmise that he survived a shipwreck, but it really doesn't matter).

The first part of the film concerns his survival on the island as he finds various sources of food, meets the wildlife (including a clattering group of tiny crabs that play as subtle comic relief through most of the film), and attempts to build a raft with which to escape. Yet, every time he builds a raft, something underneath the water batters it and breaks it apart, forcing him to swim back to the island and try again. On the third attempt he sees an enormous red sea turtle floating in the water near him, and he comes to believe that it is this creature responsible for destroying his rafts and keeping him stranded. I won't give too much away past this point, but suffice it to say that the turtle ends up playing an unexpectedly crucial role in his life, one that leads to companionship from a woman with whom he creates a family in the isolated wilderness, which slowly morphs from a prison to a home.

Because there is no dialogue and only a bare minimum of plot development, The Red Turtle has a kind of emotional freedom that makes it significantly more intriguing and emotionally gripping than a lot of desert island stories. There are obvious fantasy elements at work, but these are embedded in the story's natural ebb and flow with no great effort to explain them. Like the trees on the island that grow fruit, the pools of fresh water at its center, and the ocean itself, the fantasy elements are simply part of the environment, and we come to accept them without a great deal of fuss. One might imagine that Dudok de Wit has allegorical and symbolic intentions, but they are vague enough that they don't weigh down the experience with heavy import. There is a clear sense of the relationship between humanity and the environment, the latter of which is both violent and threatening (the opening storm is later matched by a brutal tsunami that clears out a significant part of the island's bamboo forest) and calming and generous. The red turtle of the title appears to be nothing if not a kind of gift from nature to this nameless man, who without it might spend the entirety of his life alone.

The Red Turtle is also significant for being a primarily hand-drawn animated film, an artform that is slowly being squeezed out by the siren call of computer animation's realistic textures, sense of depth, and three-dimensionality. The simplicity of the hand-drawn, black-outlined characters, whose style is immediately reminiscent of the Belgian artist Herg and his acclaimed Tintin books, is engaging, and Dudok de Wit sets them against an environment that employs some CGI to expand its range and sense of movement while still keeping the overall look and feel of something hand-drawn and painted. The animation is beautiful and elegant and has nothing more than exactly what it needs at any given moment, which makes The Red Turtle into a beautifully moving ode to the rhythms of time and nature and our connection with the worlds we inhabit.

The Red Turtle Blu-ray
Aspect Ratio1.85:1

English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround

SubtitlesEnglish, Portuguese, Spanish

  • Audio commentary by writer/director Michael Dudok de Wit

  • "The Birth of The Red Turtle" documentary
  • "The Secrets of The Red Turtle" featurette
  • AFI Fest Q&A with Michael Dudok de Wit
  • Trailer
  • DistributorSony Pictures Home Entertainment
    Release DateMay 2, 2017

    The high-definition image on The Red Turtle Blu-ray is consistently stunning, giving the film's beautiful visual aesthetic its full due. The image boasts impressive colors, which range from the verdant greens of the bamboo forest, to the shimmering blues of the ocean water, to the intense red of the titular turtle's shell. The image has a great deal of detail, which aids in our appreciation of the film's seamless combination of hand-drawn and CGI techniques. The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1-channel surround soundtrack is equally impressive, with an immersive use of the speakers that is crucial to establishing the island and its surroundings as a character in the film. The opening ocean storm and the later tsunami are duly impressive in sonic immersion and use of the thundering low end, but I really appreciated the subtle use of the surrounds to convey the sound of the wind, rustling leaves, and clattering crab legs. Fans of the film will also be pleased with the robust set of supplements included here, starting with an English-language audio commentary by writer/director Michael Dudok de Wit. "The Birth of The Red Turtle" is a 56-minute documentary composed primarily of an extended interview with the director as he charts the film's origins and production, while "The Secrets of The Red Turtle" is an 18-minute featurette in which Dudok de Wit demonstrates his various animation tecniques. Finally, the director appears in 21 minutes of footage of a Q&A session following the film's screening at the AFI Fest.

    Copyright © 2017 James Kendrick

    Thoughts? E-mail James Kendrick

    All images copyright © Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

    Overall Rating: (3.5)


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