Gorgeously rendered, this foreign-made animated movie begins as a story of desert-island survival and evolves into something deeper.
Definitely not for any Ritalin-deprived Pixar fanatics in your household, Michael Dudok de Wit’s elegantly spare and dialogue-free animated film is a magical spell all the same. Set entirely on a speck of desert island, The Red Turtle wrecks you with luscious hues that feel wholly invented for this project: turquoise shallows, a dense olive-green forest that’s clearly been untouched by humankind, angry pink dawns and—most impressively—a series of black-and-white starry nights.
At first, the film resembles one of those gripping Sunday afternoon survival dramas, as a dot-eyed male figure stirs to life on the beach (thanks to some nosy crabs). He finds fruit and fresh water, learns the rhythms of the daily rain showers and barely escapes an anxiety-producing fall into a slippery grotto. He has no company, no volleyball à la Cast Away. As he charges out into the water on his makeshift raft, you can feel the desperation.
It won’t be any surprise that a movie called The Red Turtle introduces a supporting cast. But Dudok de Wit modulates our emotions in sophisticated ways, first accessing the awe of The Black Stallion, then straight-up guilt and, finally, an evolution that can’t be explained by anything other than hope. Coproduced by Japan’s legendary Studio Ghibli (makers of Spirited Away), the film bears that company’s holistic belief in a wider natural world with powers of its own. The movie has the proportion of a fable but the scope of a mythical lifetime.
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