The Red Turtle is primarily about a man who finds himself stranded on a deserted island. He tries to get out by building a raft, but each time he attempts to escape, something destroys the boat.
But the film tells much more than the story of this particular man trying to survive on an island. There is of course that Robinson Crusoe element at the beginning of the film, but then something happens with the titular red turtle that adds something new to the movie. It becomes something much more poetic and metaphorical; The Red Turtle is essentially a metaphor of life, death, and all the tests that a man can encounter throughout his existence.
The man has to learn that he can't control everything; he has to adjust to the power of nature.
And the way this nature is depicted is quite breath-taking; the island almost feels like a character; sometimes it's peaceful, welcoming, quiet; sometimes it's more dangerous.
The artistic direction is gorgeous, with pastel colours and subtle animation. It should be noted that Isao Takahata (director of Grave of the Fireflies, The Tale of Princess Kaguya…) is credited as an artistic producer on the film. I think I noticed some CGI but it all blends perfectly, thanks in part to a grainy paper-like quality to the image that makes the film its own thing visually.
The filmmakers should be commanded for telling a story as deep as the one that unfolds in The Red Turtle with absolutely no dialogue. It's all told visually and you get immediately what the characters are feeling.
That being said, there are moments in the film when we can wonder if the use of dialogue wouldn't have been useful. Sometimes it's almost as if the filmmakers forbid themselves to have some lines of dialogue, because they wanted to make a totally dialogue-free movie. If so that's a shame, because some words could've made the emotional moments more moving than they are; some very powerful stuff happens in The Red Turtle, yet it's not as poignant as it could've been or as the film wants it to be.
But we shouldn't let that spoil our fun; The Boy and the Beast, Zootopia, Finding Dory, The Red Turtle… We're only halfway through 2016, and already this year has been a strong one for animation (and there is more to come). This one is a poetic and charming entry, with stunning visuals and a strong metaphorical view on life.
We think this red turtle is worth your time, whenever it reaches your shore; plus, it's always good to see that Studio Ghibli logo on the big screen.