Movie Reviews

The Red Turtle Review | VIFF 2016

(The Red Turtle, Studio Ghibli)

Studio Ghibli has been synonymous with wonder and delight in animation for decades. By making anime, Studio Ghibli are iconic and legendary by making that type of animation legitimate. You won’t find any of the animation here. After Hayao Miyazaki’s retirement from the company, it’s safe to say the public has been wondering what the company is going to do next. If it’s The Red Turtle, the directorial debut of Michaël Dudok de Wit, I’m very nervous of their future.

In this near dialogue-free film, a man washes ashore from what looks to just being lost at sea. He happens to wash up on an island that is free of all people. Alone, but not dumb, this man keeps himself alive long enough to build a raft to get away until something destroys the raft from under him. He builds this raft again and again. Still destroyed. He eventually resigns himself to his fate of living on this island forever until The Red Turtle shows up.

At a mere 80 minutes, I feel like I’m cheating you out of a large portion of the film. The Red Turtle isn’t a fast paced film, by any means, and that does work to its strengths. Not a film about plot, so much as a film that wants you to feel what it’s saying, The Red Turtle slowly peels open to show the true message of what it’s getting at. Based off the small description, I doubt you’d guess, but the film looks into family quite a bit. Unfortunately, the pace starts to wear thin and makes you feel like you’ve wasted your time for it to get where it really wanted to get to.

(The Red Turtle, Studio Ghibli)

(The Red Turtle, Studio Ghibli)

I don’t want to give the impression that this isn’t a pretty film. There is a beauty that’s different from other Ghibli films and it helps establish its own identity. Sadly, even the art style can’t help it from feeling like an 80 minute student film. The conundrum here is the themes of the film aren’t given enough time to be explored and yet, there isn’t enough here to really chew on for the full runtime. You get cute little animals and whimsical things to entertain you for, maybe 20 minutes, but that’s about it.

I honestly can’t recommend much about this movie. By the time the director was ready to explore his themes, I’d checked out. It’s difficult to stretch a minimal film into something that’s hardly feature length, but then there should be some awareness that maybe your film shouldn’t be so long. Then again, sometimes people just don’t care all that much. And this just seems that it’s a passion project of one man who had an incredibly small vision. That small vision was title The Red Turtle. 

The Red Turtle

The Red Turtle




    • Minimalist animation is effective and exquisite
    • Languid tone suits the film and its aesthetic


    • Even at 80 minutes, The Red Turtle feels overlong
    • Themes feel both unexplored and too simple for anything deep to be said
    • Feels like a one person passion project with no one else in mind
    • Studio Ghibli logo at the beginning is misleading

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