At the time of writing this review, Birmingham is currently in the middle of the Flatpack Film Festival. Focused on more offbeat films than other festivals, and with more of a focus on animation than other, larger festivals, Flatpack is something I’ve wanted to go to since I’ve lived in Birmingham but never got around to until now. Thankfully, the first film I chose to see for Flatpack was a worthy one, helped by a brilliant director q&a afterwards. Coming about as the result of a letter from Studio Ghibli to director Michael Dudok de Wit, with this being the first film from de Wit, The Red Turtle is a film that’s pretty hard for me to review. The main element that makes the film work is its atmosphere, and that kind of thing is hard to describe in text, but I’ll give it a go, but you should definitely see the film as soon as you can, it’s a masterpiece.
The film focuses on a man who finds himself stranded on a desert island after being set adrift in a storm. Whilst there is plenty of food and fresh water on the island for him to survive, he uses the bamboo on the island to fashion himself a raft so he can escape. However, every time he tries to escape, his raft gets destroyed by the titular red turtle, and that’s as much as I’m willing to say about the plot. The less you know about the plot of this film, the better the experience you have will be. What I will say is that there’s a brilliant sense of magic to the whole film, it draws you into the atmosphere of the film, keeping you engaged as the more fantastical elements of the story emerge. These elements don’t just come out of the blue though, they are set up earlier on in the film, with these elements linking into ideas regarding the tricks your mind plays on you when in isolation. There are also brilliant elements of guilt and love brought into the film which helps make the characters believable.
The main element of praise though is the incredible animation. This is some of the most beautiful animation I’ve seen in a long time. The mix of 2d and CG animation is seamless, especially in scenes related to the titular turtle and the design of the island is a thing of beauty. There’s a great sense of the power of nature throughout the film through the strength of the animation, showing both the beauty and danger of it (not just through the red turtle but through a tsunami as well). The best element though comes through a brilliant creative decision: there’s no dialogue. All of these brilliant elements of the film, from the thematic weight to the beautiful simplicity of the story (which did make me cry a few times) is told without dialogue. There are a few grunts and yells but apart from that, it’s a silent film. This allows the character animation to shine and this is some of the best character animation I’ve seen in a 2d film. The overall designs have a bit of a Herge feel, in the same way you can see a bit of a Japanese influence in the animation of the island, which allows the body language of the characters to help tell the story, this being true of the animals as well. Some of the funniest moments in the film are related to the crabs that live on the island, bringing in an element of comic relief throughout the seriousness of the rest of the film. This is all brought together through an incredible score which helps tell the story and adds to the beauty of the film.
Overall, The Red Turtle is a masterpiece. This is one of the most beautiful films I’ve seen in a long time and I think that, with further rewatches, this has the potential to be one of the best animated films I’ve ever seen. The animation in this film is beautiful, the music is incredible and the simplicity of the story works with the animation to create an incredibly moving experience. This is a film that I can comfortably recommend that everyone needs to see as soon as possible.
My Rating: 5/5