The Red Turtle (Michael Dudok de Wit, 2017): Japan | France | Belgium

Reviewed by Nelson Roosendahl. Viewed at AFI Film Fest 2016.

The Red Turtle is a charming and thought-provoking new animated feature by Michael Dudok de Wit, who won an Academy Award for Best Animated Short for Father and Daughter (2000). A man finds himself alone, adrift on the ocean, and manages to come upon a deserted island. He makes several attempts to escape the island, each time constructing a raft and assembling provisions; but, each time, his attempts are thwarted at sea by a mysterious red sea turtle and he finds himself back on the island. Finally, he destroys the creature; but from the carcass emerges a woman.

The man manages to create a life for himself on the island with his turtle become woman and their son. They fish and gather other food and water, play, and occasionally come across the trappings of the civilized world.

The film is exquisitely if somewhat simply animated in a painterly style characteristic of de Wit’s other work, with care given to the lush landscapes around the island the ever-present sea, and the shifting breeze.

The film recalls Robert Redford’s All Is Lost, another film about a man’s poignant struggle with the sea, and also, like The Red Turtle, a film without dialogue. In a comic sense, this film also brings to mind Gilligan’s Island, with its palm trees-and-lagoon setting and its constant island-escape foibles; or even, the live action feature The Blue Lagoon, another tale of a budding family in a lonely and harsh environment.

This film is a charm. It’s also a challenge, leaving the viewer to think of life’s vagaries and temporality, It’s the sort of thing you might want to watch again right away, except unlike The Lion King, the score and the editing don’t give one the opportunity to dance off to the kitchen for ice cream, but keep the viewer thoroughly engaged in the world of the film. It is at once a film that brings on deep pondering, and a film which delights by its narrative.

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