Movie Review: ‘The Red Turtle’

By Bill Wine

KYW Newsradio 1060

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — The animated The Red Turtle is a silent castaway fable that explores our connection to the natural world.

It begins in the middle of a raging storm, with rain and waves filling the screen and washing the main character up on a beach, his boat now in pieces.

The tropical island is uninhabited but for the crabs, caterpillars, and spiders inching along as birds fly by overhead.

As time goes by, he begins a series of escape attempts in a makeshift bamboo raft.

But every time he pushes off on his journey, a mysterious force in the water upends his boat and undermines his trip.

What is it? A red turtle.

Which is where we’ll stop describing the bare-bones narrative, except to say that this nameless man does not – you and your kids may be relieved to hear — end up being the only human being on the island.

(2½ stars out of 4)

(2½ stars out of 4)

Dutch animator Michael Dudok de Wit makes his feature-film directorial debut, having co-written the meditative script with Pascale Ferran that’s based on de Wit’s story. Their intention is not to sensationally excite as much as it is to quietly impress and perhaps inspire.

The Red Turtle is an elegantly animated mythical fantasy that seems aimed more squarely at adults than kids. If no other artistic decision revealed this target-audience priority, it’s the absence of dialogue in an already under-populated movie.

Of course, dialogue-less movies also have an easier time of it playing around the world with no necessary subtitles and translation.

The (mostly) hand-drawn animation is lovely, and its use to tell a story this timeless and universal renders the film an admirable work of art, which is why it’s a nominee for Best Animated Feature in the upcoming Oscar race.

However, it may not have quite the hold on youngsters, responding to it as they would a picture book, that many contemporary, computer-animated features do.

This is inspired visual storytelling, to be sure, but the young audience will not appreciate the film’s symbolic, allegorical, and impressionistic images as much as they’ll miss the contribution that dialogue would have made.

After all, it’s one thing not to have celebrity voices, but quite another to have no voices at all: in this case, a picture better be worth a thousand words.

In a way, despite undeniable visual brilliance, the level of understatement is, well, overstated.

So we’ll wash ashore 2-1/2 stars out of 4 for the animated survival fairytale, The Red Turtle, which is a treat to look at, but limits its appeal by refusing to come all the way out from under its shell.

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