THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan
"THE RED TURTLE"
The Red Turtle is an elegant reminder that hand-drawn animation has a unique grace that no CGI animation can replicate, regardless of how well it's executed. This dialogue-free French/Japanese co-production, presented by Japan's famous Studio Ghibli, is a visual treat. There isn't a moment in it that isn't staggeringly beautiful to look at. Running underneath the visuals is a thoughtful meditation on life and loneliness.
The film follows a man who is stranded on a desert island. He runs around, yelling to see if anyone else is there. He falls off a cliff and has to swim through a narrow passage to escape a wall of rocks. He makes a raft to float away, only to have his attempt thwarted by a massive red-shelled turtle that destroys his creation. The two have several encounters over a period of weeks. Then the man awakens one day to find that the creature has transformed into a red-haired woman. What happens next should remain unrevealed here, not because there's some major twist to be spoiled, but because part of the movie's pleasure is the way it glides effortlessly into its central theme.
The Red Turtle explores the idea of finding lifelines in the middle of bad situations. Being stranded on an island holds the promise of a solitary existence, of never interacting with another human again. Early scenes show the man grappling with that. There is no one to help him, no one to lean on. The turtle brings with it a ray of hope and the chance to have connection. Whether the woman is merely a figment of his imagination or some legitimately magical creation is up to the viewer. In either case, she gives him something he desperately needs to carry on. He no longer has to be alone.
Director Michael Dudok de Wit, making his feature debut, uses stylized animation to tell the story. There is intentionally more detail in the environments than in the humans. The man's face, for example, doesn't have much definition. Nor does it need to; there aren't many characters here, so there's no need to distinguish him from anyone else. Bright splashes of color make up for that, as do lush landscapes and seascapes that effectively juxtapose the beauty of nature with the helplessness of isolation. The Red Turtle resembles an illustrated children's book come to life.
That said, this is probably a movie for adults more than kids, despite being animated and carrying a mild PG rating. It's not a funny, fluffy story with things going on at every second. Instead, the tale unfolds gradually and methodically, relying on thematic development instead of overt action. Slightly older, more sophisticated children may possibly get into its vibe. Adults, on the other hand, will be entranced.
The Red Turtle can admittedly drag a little in certain moments, due to the absence of dialogue and the fact that stranded-on-a-desert-island movies inherently have to address all the same issues. But that's okay, because the film expresses something meaningful about the basic human need for connection. We are never truly lost, it seems to say, so long as we have someone – or something – keeping us company.
( out of four)
The Red Turtle is rated PG for some thematic elements and peril. The running time is 1 hour and 20 minutes.
Buy a copy of my book, "Straight-Up Blatant: Musings From The Aisle Seat," on sale now at Lulu.com! Paperback and Kindle editions also available at Amazon.com!