The Red Turtle (2017) – Review

Considering myself a huge Studio Ghibli buff (will also accept the title of Ghibli Queen!), I jumped at the chance to see the latest film from this legendary animation giant ahead of general release. The Red Turtle has in fact being circuiting around film festivals and other countries for almost a year now, and finally arrives in UK cinemas on the 26th May.

In an unprecedented move for Studio Ghibli, this is in fact a co-production with Wild Bunch, a French production company and the International distributor of Studio Ghibli’s films. Perhaps marking a new era for Ghibli, where previously they had made Japanese films for a Japanese audience, The Red Turtle is helmed by Dutch veteran short film director, Michael Dudok de Wit. Describing the moment he received a letter from Studio Ghibli asking him to direct a feature film for them, he said “I knew it was a yes before I finished reading!”. How could he say no after all?

The animation of The Red Turtle is starkly different from most of Studio Ghibli films, but with its fantastical realism, gorgeous visuals and score, and theme of man and nature, it still feels very much like it is cut from the same cloth. The hand-drawn animation is absolutely stunning, grainy and authentic and somewhat resembling book illustrations, leaping to life from the very pages themselves. The colour palette is muted but stunning in its simplicity which works to incredible effect when the red turtle of the title is first seen, and the colour pop of red provides stark contrast to the blandness of the environment.

On the one hand this film is remarkably simple, a tale of life established in the microcosm of a deserted island, but on the other hand there is an incredible amount of depth and things to unpack. The Red Turtle is unlike anything you have ever seen or perhaps ever will see again – a higher class of animation, transcendent, ethereal and serene. It is refreshingly dialogue-less but should never be classed as a “silent” film. The island itself, and the characters feel rich and layered, living breathing things, and the remarkable soundscape contributes to this. The sounds of nature help the environment come to life, and even something as simple as using natural breathing sounds for the characters makes the whole thing incredibly naturalistic. The score by Lauren Perez Del Mar is also absolutely gorgeous, sweeping in at the appropriate moments and perfectly orchestrating the moments of drama, tenderness, joy, and sadness.

The visuals speak absolute volumes, and the absence of dialogue is never to its detriment. The Red Turtle is utterly captivating and in its short run-time of 80 minutes, you’ll be unable to look away as you’re swept away in this magical and wonderful story. The plot may seem limited on first glance but this is what makes this film so incredible. It covers the ups and downs of life in such a short amount of time, with love, loss, anger, happiness and tragedy in equal measure. To spoil too much of this film would be a shame, and with a very deliberate ocean analogy here, it really is the sort of film you need to let wash over you.

Ghibli films are known for packing an emotional punch, and The Red Turtle is no different. It is devastatingly beautiful, yet it never feels manipulative in generating emotion. I firmly believe that everyone’s experience will be different with this film; it is wonderfully rather than frustratingly ambiguous and very much open to the individuals interpretation. You’d have to have a heart of stone not to feel anything, but the parts which resonate with the audience will undoubtedly be different.

The Red Turtle is an incredible piece of cinema and an experience which is hard to put into words. It is a beautifully simple story told in the most exquisite way, magical in places and then crushingly realistic in others. Don’t let the limited release put you off, this is a film which is well worth taking the time to seek out. The Red Turtle is an instant animated classic, easily able to stand amongst the Ghibli greats.  


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