A beautiful new animated film produced in part by Studio Ghibli is just what we need to counter the onslaught of CGI films that flood the marketplace for kids, who are routinely being exposed to a lot of the same kinds of stories. The Red Turtle is something different- a near silent film that manages to be the perfect antidote to the usual perky, do-gooder formula of most American animation, with a gorgeous and moving tale of life on a deserted island, one that illustrates every stage of it with remarkable perception.
We begin with a man who has been shipwrecked and drifts onto the shore of a small island as the wreckage of his boat floats away. We know nothing about this anonymous man, nor will we learn anything- he is simply trapped alone on this fairly small land mass, with nothing to do but survive and try over and over again to escape. He fights his own feelings of despair and occasional hallucinations of being rescued, and eventually he builds a raft and makes several attempts to leave the island, each time being hindered by the efforts of an enormous red turtle that for some reason does not want him to get away. There is a magical element to this story, as in time the turtle comes ashore and appears to die, shedding its shell to reveal a human woman of a similar age as the man, someone who intends to be his permanent companion on this deserted isle that now belongs to them.
After the two begin a life together, eventually a baby comes along to join them as the circle of life goes forward (in some ways you can see this as the animated, more mature version of something like The Blue Lagoon). It’s as simple as it sounds- man meets woman, the two fall in love, a baby comes along, the baby grows into a man himself, the child leaves home, and the two parents grow old together as death comes knocking. It’s a cycle that plays itself out in beautiful hand drawn animation with an eye for detail and lush colors in every frame- a meditative, wordless experience that may try the patience of younger viewers as it plays to the emotions of adults entranced by the visuals. If there’s any hesitation about this film, it may be that even at 80 minutes in length, it feels a bit long, and given the nature of the concept, you wonder if this may have played just as well as a 30 minute short, so as to pack a harder punch in a more concise period of time.
* * * 1/2