2016 has been an astounding year for animation (UPDATE: as this film only received a US release this year, it has to be considered a 2017 film – doesn’t change the fact that it is a great film and that animation is in a golden age). There have been some truly extraordinary animated films that stretch the limits of what can be done with animation. For decades now, one studio that has stood head and shoulders above other animation studios is the iconic Studio Ghibli. Under the legacy of Hayao Miyazaki, Studio Ghibli has truly been at the forefront of innovative animation – and even when the great Miyazaki himself isn’t making them, Studio Ghibli still manages to push the boundaries of animation. One such film is La Tortue Rouge (The Red Turtle), one of the most emotionally resonant animated experiences I’ve ever had.
Directed and animated by Dutch animator Michaël Dudok de Wit (known for his beautiful and resonant short films), The Red Turtle is a film with such a simple premise, it borders on being an exercise in nihilism. It takes the familiar trope of a man deserted on an uninhabited island, and shows his attempts at survival – and he soon discovers that his biggest adversary is the titular red turtle – and in an extraordinary twist, he finds that the being preventing him from leaving the island will soon become his very reason to spend the rest of his life on the island, and prove that he doesn’t want to actually leave.
There isn’t much to say about The Red Turtle – it is a relatively short film (only 80 minutes in length), and it is pretty straightforward – one can always talk about various facets of a film, but The Red Turtle is one of the most simple and least elaborate films I have ever seen. For example, The Red Turtle does not have even a single line of dialogue, which may make the film seem like a dreadful experience, but actually proves to be beneficial, as it allows for the story to speak for itself – and unlike films like The Triplets of Belleville, where dialogue would have been somewhat needed, The Red Turtle doesn’t need any, and it could have ruined the vast beauty of the film if it did have.
Rather, The Red Turtle speaks to something far more profound – human emotion. The Red Turtle is a film about loneliness and solitude – and anyone who has ever felt like they are alone in the world will find themselves moved to tears by this film. The main character does not have a name, nor a background, nor anything other than the fact that he represents humanity as a whole. We go on a journey with this character, and instead of simply viewing the film as happening to our protagonist, we become fully immersed and involved in the film, and become a part of the story. It is doubtless that everyone will see themselves, in some capacity, in The Red Turtle, whether it is simply just being able to relate to the feelings of isolation and our own inherent search for meaning in life.
The Red Turtle will move you to tears. However, I wouldn’t say that it is a traditionally sad and emotional film, mainly because it doesn’t try and play on your emotions by creating sad situations, and using cliches to elicit emotional responses. The Red Turtle is such a simple film, and it finds such beauty in its simplicity – and the ending is so sweet, subtle and sad, it is impossible to not tear up. It isn’t a film that will make you openly weep, but rather a film that will make you feel a deep sense of melancholy and nostalgia, and will make you think of your own life and experiences, and you’ll form a lasting connection with this film – it isn’t a film one can forget very soon.
The Red Turtle also has some absolutely gorgeous animation. This is a prime example of the notion that less is more – the animation is simple, minimalist and utterly beautiful – there is no need for incredibly fancy animation here, and it matches the simplicity of the story. There isn’t anything wrong with elaborate animation, but sometimes, the most profound stories are found in the most simple and meaningful places. The Red Turtle is quite simply just gorgeous to look at, and proves that while computer-generated animation may be dominant, there will always be a place for traditional animation.
I will never forget The Red Turtle. It is one of the best films of the year. It is humble and genuine, and very simple, yet utterly beautiful. It is a bit of an anomaly – it is a combination of an elaborate, meaningful story, of grand proportions, told in a very small and intimate way. It is just extraordinary, and while I doubt many will watch it, it truly is a wonderful film, and I suggest anyone who loves animation to seek it out. I wish I could’ve written more, but there isn’t much to say other than it is an amazing film, and it creates more emotion than it does words. A lovely little film. It definitely gives Kubo and the Two Strings a run for its money as best animated film of the year.