Reviewed: The Red Turtle (Michael Dudok de Wit, 2017)

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Director: Michael Dudok de Wit

Studio: Studio Ghibli and Wild Bunch

When acclaimed animator Hayao Miyazaki announced his retirement from film production in 2013, many feared that this would spark the end of the much adored Studio Ghibli. With some of the most well received animated feature films to have ever been produced, the loss of one of its influential founders created a need to put the studio on hold, until stability could be restored. Now three years later, Studio Ghibli returns with a co-production (not their first) of The Red Turtle, with long time partner Wild Bunch.

Although  The Red Turtle is marketed as a co-production, the movie still holds a strong semblance to earlier Ghibli movies, such as mystical elements and beautifully drawn cinematic frames. Co-written and directed by Dutch-British animator Michael Dudok de Wit, The Red Turtle is a beautifully imagined film with a simple plot – that is interlaced with subtle messages and emotions.

With such a simple plot, and holding no dialogue between its characters, The Red Turtle is a animated feature film that from the outset attempts to be seen as something different. Although simple, the films narrative presents a subtle message about the environment and how one can impact on a multitude of different things. Although for the most part The Red Turtle is easy to follow, other segments of its plot struggle to hold a clarity on what is actually occurring onscreen. This occurs due largely to the lack of dialogue within its presentation, forcing the audience to utilise other means to justify motives and meanings from the various exploits onscreen.

Although the film utilises shouts and murmurs in some areas of its progression, the majority of what is heard is made up of soothing melodies and real life sound effects. This is blended in the editing suite to such a high standard that the sound mix is able to compliment the motion canvas of its animation entirely.

With an animation style that is reminiscent of a Raymond Briggs adaptation, The Red Turtle does struggle to covey every emotion in the characters as they meander the beautifully rendered vistas. With a non-anime style eye design, that is small, the film can is not able to fall back on the eyes to deliver the emotive nature of the narrative. Instead, the film utilises body language to direct the audience into how the characters are feeling, which is never as effective due to the subjective nature of how this can be perceived. This means that in the harsher parts of its plot, The Red Turtle comes across slightly shallow in its development – which detracts from the final production standard.

At only 80 minutes in length, The Red Turtle never outstays its welcome or becomes annoying in what it so desperately aims to achieve.  With each of its drawings done to a beautiful standard, the co-production with Studio Ghibli has created one of the most visually impressive animated feature films ever. The decision to utilise very little dialogue allows The Red Turtle to feel unique – but at the expense of creating issues with its pacing and plot clarity. A beautifully simple premise that has been animated to an enchanting standard, The Red Turtle may not be one of Ghibli’s best but succeeds in holding a level of freshness throughout. 

Plot 3

Acting N/A

Direction 3

Effects 4

Overall 3

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