The Red Turtle is Gorgeous in its Simplicity

There are no celebrity voices to herald and headline the latest animated feature, The Red Turtle. There are no upbeat pop songs, no car chases, and no in-your-eyeballs 3D effects. But I dare you to look away, for even a moment. This gently mesmerizing, beautifully-made story is truly one of a kind and is highly-recommended for all ages.

The Red Turtle

2016, PG

It’s a fascinating retelling of a classic myth: A seafaring man falls in love with a mystical creature. It begins when a shipwrecked sailor washes ashore on a deserted island. It’s a disaster, but not a total tragedy: The nondescript, silent castaway soon realizes he has everything he needs. The tropical paradise boasts wide, sandy beaches, a lush bamboo forest, a freshwater lagoon, and a few animals for company (and sustenance). We live vicariously through the marooned mariner, experiencing the overwhelming force of a sudden tropical storm through the swirling sights and resonant sounds of rain pelting hollow bamboo, wind ripping through the tall grass and tree leaves, and still waters stirred. And then, the calm after the squall.

His only enemy is a mysterious crimson sea turtle who does everything she can to stop him from leaving the island. Again and again, the wrathful turtle smashes the man’s handmade raft and knocks him back over the sandbar onto the beach. But why? It’s because, as you may have guessed, she’s a shapeshifter that transforms into a beautiful woman. Now the sailor truly does have everything he needs.

There aren’t many kids’ movies that could be described as a “mood piece,” but this is one. The gentle lull of the water lapping all around is evocative of others in the oceanic canon – Moana, Finding Dory – but it’s much lower-key. The Red Turtle is in simple watercolor style 2D animation, drawn and directed by Dutch cartoonist Michaël Dudok de Wit. Even the storm that wrecks our Robinson Crusoe’s ship is like something from a dream wrought at the end of a paintbrush. (But the movie is computer-animated.)

There is a subtle tension throughout the film, a sort of suspense that keeps you wondering. There’s an eco-message here, of course, but it’s not heavy-handed. The filmmaker simply shows the enchanted environment, in all its beauty and wonder, and lets the viewer interpret the wordless story on his or her own terms.

The Red Turtle is a rare and gorgeous fable.

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Visit Common Sense Media for more info on this movie’s appropriateness for your child.

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