Most mainstream moviegoers consider animation to be child's play. Disney has dominated the industry since the '40s, so cartoons and kid flicks have been almost inextricably synonymous. That's the norm in the U.S., at least.
While U.S. audiences for animation still might have some growing up to do, the premier animation studio in Japan, Studio Ghibli, has produced some animated features that push the envelope. From the distinctly adult National Academy Award winner "Princess Mononoke," to the bizarre childhood epic, "My Neighbor Totoro," Studio Ghibli's fantastical films often challenge the Western idea of what cartoons can be about and to whom they should appeal.
Following in this visionary tradition, "The Red Turtle" is the feature film directorial debut of Dutch-British animator Michaël Dudok de Wit, working in cooperation with Studio Ghibli to create a truly unique and captivating animation for mature minds. Told in metaphorical but relatable terms, it's an allegorical story in which the shipwrecked character represents the stages a person goes through in life. This quiet story is told entirely without words, leaving the talking to the eloquently simple and beautiful animation. In contrast to an industry that has turned to digital technology, "The Red Turtle" is almost entirely hand-drawn, with simple shading and painterly textures giving it an organic character that animation fans nostalgic for the good ol' days will love.
The attention to detail in the visuals helps to support the gentle pacing of the story, which has the unhurried and dreamlike qualities of a fairytale you've never heard before. "The Red Turtle" features a largely empty and naturalistic soundtrack of lonely bird calls and lapping waves, paired with a soft-hued color palate of verdant green and sandy gold. This intensely atmospheric approach leaves the viewer awash in an introspective sea of solitude and survival, free to appreciate each beat as the characters experience it.
Despite their desolate environment, the characters in this film are indomitable, a thriving representation of the idea that life goes on, despite the worst and best that forces natural or supernatural can throw at us. Much like real life, this film dodges artfully around any explanation of the "why" for these characters and their mystical island situation, choosing instead to focus on their deeper connection to the island and each other, all masterfully told without a line spoken.
"The Red Turtle" is a movie to see when you want to explore the limits of what art can mean and the core of what it means to be human. It's a movie that might leave you wondering at its true meaning for years later, or it might see you leaving the theater nodding your head, knowing exactly what that story was trying to tell you. Either way, the experience will give the kind of food for thought that few films, let alone animations, manage to provide.
The Red Turtle
Dir. Michaël Dudok de Wit
Tin Pan Theater