Review: 'The Red Turtle' Is Typical Studio Ghibli At Their Best

Jacqueline Gualtieri ’18 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
In recent years, animation has seen a rise in the use of several mediums. Some films, like those from Disney or Illumination Entertainment, focus on hyper-realistic 3-D animation, with eyes reflecting light like a human’s would or each strand of hair moving seemingly haphazardly in the wind. Rather than attempting to follow this trend, Studio Ghibli has retained the same 2-D animation form for their latest feature, The Red Turtle, that they have brought to life for many years, which perhaps has given their films more beauty than their 3-D competition.
The animation in The Red Turtle is the perfect example of beauty in simplicity. It’s not an overly colorful film, which suits its mood. The location of the entire film, an island, is as simplistic as the main characters; the simple beauty of the animation similarly stems from the aesthetic of the unembellished island. Further, the island is a juxtaposition of danger and peace, with jagged rocks and treacherous caves, next to perfectly clear blue-green water and smooth sand. During the film’s drama, the sky is almost constantly overcast, which doesn’t subside until the main character starts to find peace.

The Red Turtle. Photo Credit: Sony Pictures Classics.
Throughout the rather short 80-minute film, the only dialogue spoken is the occasional yell or groan. With so little communication, the audience is left to interpret the plot solely on visual storytelling, which was what director Michael Dudok de Wit had originally wanted for the film. The common thought of now knowing exactly what certain actions mean may discourage some audiences, but others may find enjoyment in knowing that the answer to that question never comes.
In contrast to the animation, the plot is more sophisticated. The film begins with the shipwreck of a man whose name is never given. As he suffers alone on the island, he tries to find ways to get home, building boat after boat out of the trees, only to be stopped every time by the red turtle, who is not what it seems. When the turtle is revealed to be a beautiful woman, the man finds love on the island with her, starting a life with her and finding peace on the island, as does the red turtle, for as long as she can.
The interpretation of the plot is only one of many. The character names are never revealed. The man’s past is never revealed. How the red turtle came to be is never revealed. The location of the island is never revealed. The audience is left to wonder and to fill in the blanks with what they believe.
The Red Turtle. Photo Credit: Sony Pictures Classics.
The score, much like the island itself, seems to echo the thoughts of the main character. Through much of the film, it’s bleak, with little moments of lightness added in to reflect his curiosity, until he finds love. The score is perhaps one of the most important parts of a film with no dialogue. Having it seem to echo the character’s thoughts adds to the plot and it invokes emotions in the audience to relate more strongly to the characters. The Red Turtle does this fairly perfectly; with having to fill in so many blanks, the audience’s understanding of the emotional cues of the score is the key to understanding the film.
The Red Turtle follows the trend of films from the past few years like last year’s “Kubo and the Two Strings,” exploring more sophisticated storytelling within the medium of animation. It’s doubtful that a child could sit through 80 minutes of a movie with no dialogue and a fairly hard to follow plot. However, since this film is geared towards a more adult audience, it should not be dismissed as a family film simply because it is animated. It is easily one of the most beautiful films of the last year. It’s compelling and emotional. The Red Turtle may not be the brightest film of the year, but it is one of the most beautiful.
Overall Grade: A
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One Comment

  1. The life lived by the people in this film seems so alien to us because they live in direct contact with their environment without any mediation from language, technology, clothing, watches, cars, or any of the other trappings of civilization.

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