Dialogue-free, traditionally animated and stranding its protagonist alone on an island in the first few minutes, The Red Turtle is worth sticking through despite its stately pace. Its quivering animation may beguile you from the beginning, but for others the repetition and lack of narrative conflict might take a little more to get on board with.
Washing up on the beach, the protagonist spends much of the first half of the film exploring the island and making repeated escape attempts by building a raft and heading for freedom. But each time he sets sail, a mysterious underwater creature that at first takes the form of a giant red turtle, destroys the raft sending him swimming back to shore to start over again.
This curious collaboration of Michael Dudok de Wit and Studio Ghibli is clearly a labour of love. Every landscape dwarves the few characters on screen, with nature filling the frame and the narrative unfolding at an extremely unhurried pace. Though limited to the single island location, there is enough differentiation in the settings and plenty of critters to help the time pass. From the titular turtle to crabs and birds, the film celebrates the natural world before adding any more human characters. And the lonely man’s little posse of friendly crabs almost steal the show.
But it’s with the introduction of first a woman and then a child that The Red Turtle not only takes a turn for the surreal, but also changes dramatically in pace. So much of the running time is spent without rushing through the days, that when the narrative suddenly skips forward years, it's as quietly heartbreaking as one particularly shocking scene is loud and crushing. The Red Turtle becomes a film about family, about responsibility and about growing old. In that sense, it touches a few of the same emotional notes as the much-celebrated opening montage of Pixar’s Up, but less concisely. In a few of its most memorable moments, it packs a punch, but there is the sense that this story could have been wrapped up far more succinctly.
And while the lack of dialogue makes sense in the opening scenes as well as forcing the viewer to focus on the visuals, it seems like a strange decision to keep this technique going when there are eventually other inhabitants on the island.
There’s no doubt that The Red Turtle is charming and enchanting, but it’s muted tone, leisurely pace and jarring lack of dialogue in the last half make for a less emotive conclusion than the simple story could have earned.
THE RED TURTLE / CERT: TBC / DIRECTOR: MICHAEL DUDOK DE WIT / SCREENPLAY: N/A / STARRING: N/A / RELEASE DATE: TBC
Expected Rating: 7 out of 10