February 17, 2017
Red Turtle is one that shouldn't be under the radar.
The Academy Awards category for best animated film features some widely recognized names including two 3D computer animated adventure comedy favorites- favored to win “Zootopia”” and musical “Moana”- from recent consecutive winner Disney (“Frozen”, “Big Hero 6”, “Inside Out”). Also included, as the 4th nod for Laika (“Coraline”, “ParaNorman”, “The Boxtrolls”), is the gorgeous and stirring 3D stop-motion samurai fantasy film “Kubo and the Two Strings.” Amongst these films, Cannes breakout 2D animated, mostly (digitally) “hand drawn”, dialogue-less “The Red Turtle” may seem a little out of place. But the recent production from Studio Ghibli (“Spirited Away”, “Arrietty”, “Ponyo”) follows in the steps of some of its remarkable predecessors in a new classic way.

“The Red Turtle” opens up on a nameless (and backstory less) man, the apparent survivor of a shipwreck, thrashing about in an ocean storm. He awakens from the aftermath of the storm to find he has washed up on the beach of a deserted island. Exploring the island he finds food to sustain himself and a forest of bamboo from which- with a group of curious sea crabs for an audience- he begins to craft himself a raft to leave the island and return to whatever civilization (if any) he came from. His attempt to leave the island however is thwarted, twice, by an unseen sea creature destroying his raft and leaving him to swim back to shore. It is upon the third and final attempt (with his largest raft yet) that the man comes face-to-face with his saboteur, the giant (namesake) red turtle, that once again destroys his raft and leaves him, unharmed, to swim back to the island. After his return, the man sees the red turtle crawling ashore and, in his frustrated rage, goes to confront it and what happens during and following the emotional encounter changes the course of the story. After the encounter and with the arrival of the woman that follows, the man finds companionship, love, family, and eventually peace on the island. The story turns from that of a shipwreck survivor battling against nature (and all it’s elements) to return home to that of a man who, with a newfound love, compassion, and appreciation for nature and the cycle of life finds his place and eventually peace in it.

The entire film (80 minutes) passes without a single piece of dialogue, save for a couple of searching screams or frustrated exclamations. But despite the lack of verbalization, the audience is able to interpret everything the characters and film are attempting to communicate. Truly a quietly moving film, “The Red Turtle” features a poetic minimalism and aesthetic beauty like no other. It’s thematically simplistic yet perceptively, and emotionally, complex. An enchanting and existential fable rooted in magical realism, “The Red Turtle” is a timeless circle/cycle of life story that feels like it’s been around forever; weaving together a new and creative narrative in a way that feels classic and familiar yet completely original.

4.5 out of 5

What would I have changed? (Spoilers)
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Liz Liz (Contributor) is an ardent cinephile from West Philadelphia. She enjoys all genres and generations of cinema and has a particular love for independent and foreign films