Shall I sit here all alone
And wait for death to call me home?
Now that I am stranded here,
Have worth and meaning flown?
Shall I push uphill my stone
And watch it roll back down and groan
And wish that life had chanced to veer
Somewhere less sorrow-prone?
Perhaps I’ll work myself to bone
And die unloved and thus unknown,
But if somebody could appear
And comfort give to persevere,
I’d gladly bear my daily stone
With one to call my own.
MPAA rating: PG
This review is my contribution to the Colours Blogathon hosted by Catherine of Thoughts All Sorts, focusing on all manner of movies with colorful titles. I chose The Red Turtle not only for the color in its name, but because I was curious about this feature-length silent film that earned an Oscar nomination for Best Animated Feature when Your Name didn’t. Now that I’ve seen it, I completely agree that it deserved such an honor because this story of a shipwrecked man stranded on an island is a piece of cinematic art. So many cartoons these days rely on hyperactive humor that something like The Red Turtle is an anomalous reminder that animation can offer compelling stories without jokes or even words through simple mastery of the medium, allowing silence to make it universal.
The beautifully simple animation is the product of a collaboration between Dutch director Michaël Dudok de Wit, winner of the 2001 Animated Short Film Oscar for the lovely Father and Daughter, and the not-yet-defunct Studio Ghibli. I’m still surprised at Ghibli’s involvement because The Red Turtle has no resemblance to anime, except maybe in the attention to natural detail, yet I’m reminded that anime is not limited by the usual big-eyed style. The Oscar-winning short film La Maison en Petits Cubes has a European aesthetic similar to The Red Turtle, but, despite the French name, it was a Japanese production. So you could say that The Red Turtle is a best of both worlds, combining the visual imaginations of its animators in a surprisingly accessible, almost watercolor style.
Silent animation is usually the realm of short films, and it must have been a risk to protract what could have been vastly shortened to a feature-length story. Those with short attention spans will likely be bored by the third raft-making attempt, but the patient should find the narrative rewarding in its ambiguity. As with Cast Away, actions speak louder than words, and the painterly animation is so superb in its simplicity that I was rarely bored. It’s all in the details, like the humorous characterization of the crabs watching the man’s efforts or the lush island greenery swaying in the breeze, and the realistic water is worth particular praise, whether serene on the horizon or violent in its outbursts.
I don’t want to say much about the actual plot since it’s best experienced with the intended visuals to tell the story, but it very much fits its description as a fable, a seemingly straightforward tale that can be appreciated on its surface or on a deeper, more symbolic level. The Red Turtle itself remains something of an enigma, even as it becomes a profoundly important part of the castaway’s life, infusing the film and its ending with a bittersweet emotion that is strongly felt, if not fully understood.
So, yes, The Red Turtle is absolutely Oscar-worthy and, if not for last year’s hefty competition, might well have won. Why couldn’t a film like this come out in 2006 or 2011, when Disney/Pixar wasn’t a shoo-in? I suppose I can now turn my blame on My Life as a Zucchini (the only nominee I haven’t yet seen) for Your Name’s lack of nomination last year because The Red Turtle is more than deserving. Despite its slow narrative that could have been a short film, it’s a piece of modern art that is becoming rarer and rarer in the world of feature-length animation.
Best line: (the man’s only line) “Heeeeey!”
Rank: List Runner-Up
© 2017 S.G. Liput
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