The Red Turtle is both a new Studio Ghibli animated feature and it isn’t. There is nothing Ghibli in its style, following neither the illustration style of Hayao Miyazaki nor Isao Takahata.
The Red Turtle is a co-production with the German-based Wild Bunch and the first feature of Michael Dudok de Wit. It promises more amazing animation and gives us an idea of the direction Studio Ghibli plans to follow.
Dudok de Wit is a Dutch animator currently based in London, England. He previously won a César for Best Short Film for his 1996 The Monk and the Fish (Le Moine et le poisson) and was nominated for an Oscar for that short before winning for the 2000 animated short Father and Daughter.
You might wonder with this wild mix of nationalities what language this feature is in. It’s so international with almost no dialogue and yet Laurent Perez Del Mar’s score helps it soar.
The Red Turtle is about an unnamed man who survives a shipwreck on stormy seas and finds refuge on a lonely island. The island has a lush bamboo forest, but a few animals—a solitary seal or two, but not a colony. Crabs that are at times the source of amusement. Turtles hatch and head to the sea. Yet no people. The man tries to escape but each time, his bamboo raft is bumped and ruined. On his last attempt, he meets the red turtle which he blames for ruin of his raft.
What follows is a fantasy open to different interpretations. In the end, the red turtle provides the man with companionship and the movie follows the mundane serenity of their lives. As such, the movie might be too boring for young children. Unlike the Studio Ghibli films, there are no chirpy girls, no cute creatures destined to become backpacks or plush toys. The style is more French than Japanese and meditative rather than adventurous.
If The Red Turtle is an indicator, Studio Ghibli’s future might lie in providing financial support for full length features by promising first time animators, giving them creative freedom. The Red Turtle made its world premiere at the Cannes Film Festival in May of this year where it won a special Jury Prize, and made its Los Angeles premiere at the November AFI FEST. It opens on January 20, 2017.