Susan Granger’s review of “The Red Turtle” (Song Pictures Classics)
This 80-minute animated fable is memorable for its dazzling aesthetic and imaginative storytelling, which explains its Academy Award nomination.
Beginning with a roiling sea, the story revolves around a man who is lost in the waves and washes up on a tropical island, seemingly inhabited only by birds and curious, scuttling sand crabs.
As he explores the lush vegetation, thick forests and rock walls beyond the beach, he slips and falls into a crevasse. Instead of drowning in the water below, he finds a way out. And that’s only the first lesson he learns in coping with loneliness and the forces of nature around him.
As time slips by, he builds a raft out of bamboo from the forest and sets sail, only to have it destroyed by some beast lurking under the water. That happens again and again when he rebuilds and attempts to get back to civilization. The creature will not let him leave.
As it turns out, his nemesis is a gigantic red turtle. Which, in his fantasy, mysteriously shapeshifts into a beautiful red-haired woman, discreetly covered by a large shell. When he decides to abandon the raft, she discards her shell.
They mate and have a child. But danger lurks over the decades, as they struggle to find food and survive tsunamis.
Collaborating with Isao Takahata of Japan’s renowned Studio Ghibli (“Spirited Away,” “Princess Monoke”) and screenwriter Pascale Ferran, Dutch animator/director Michael Dudock de Wit went to the Seychelles, where he took thousands of photographs, preparing to recreate how time stands still in such an environment.
While the sounds of nature abound, along with Laurent Perez Del Mar’s ethereal music, there’s no dialogue. Except for some CGI in the turtle, the spare, hand-drawn imagery conveys the emotions inherent in the castaway’s adapting to and making peace with his situation.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “The Red Turtle” paddles in with a sumptuous, survivalist 7. Because of its leisurely, dreamlike pace, I suspect its appeal will be more to adults than children.