Among this year’s nominees for Best Animated Feature is The Red Turtle, a French-Belgian collaboration with some help from Japan’s Studio Ghibli. It tells the tale of a man stranded on a deserted island, and though it would seem akin to Robinson Crusoe, the tale twists into much more along the way.
The Red Turtle begins with a man being tossed about in a huge sea of torrential waves. He seems almost microscopic in scale compared to the storm, and that scale is kept throughout most of the film’s camera angles. No reason or dialogue is given to anything as the man finally lands upon an island in the middle of nowhere, discovering its varied terrain from rocky protrusions to lush forests of greenery and fresh pools of water. He is entirely alone except for the odd assortment of birds, turtles, sea lions, and white crabs who provide him with some company and occasional humorous bits in the movie. After exploring the layout of his predicament (with at least one life threatening event along the way), the man tries crafting a raft to escape, only to be thwarted by a mysterious force whenever he takes the raft out to sea. His vented frustrations are some of the only sounds we hear besides the background music, making us feel as isolated as he does as well. Besides being unable to escape the island, he is also haunted by the occasional dream turned nightmare.
Eventually, he reconciles himself to live out his life on the island where we see him go through the full cycle of life, as well as dealing with other perils and simple joy. How he reaches this point though is what changes this film from an island survivor story into something else entirely. You’re left wondering if it was all just a dream or something wonderfully magical since all proof that it happened conveniently disappears in the end.
The animation itself is pretty standard although it does seem like many of the man’s movements were animated via rotoscope. The colors are mostly muted and demure in tone with the occasional spots of vivid brightness, which also describes the movie’s tone. The lack of dialogue allows you to watch the movie unencumbered, allowing one to be completely immersed into the scene, much like the man himself.
In the end, you feel fulfilled with a touch of sadness which is all one can ask of for any good story. Again, no need for any fancy special effects, 3D CGI, or other splashes. A good story always carries through and leaves you with a thoughtful impression.