The Red Turtle is beautiful simplicity

Those of you going into the latest film with Studio Ghibli’s name in front expecting Miyazaki may be disappointed. This film is less anime and more Euroanimation, more Tintin than Spirited Away.

I tell you that not to so much slight The Red Turtle and more to prepare you. The Red Turtle is the sort of film that almost defies plot description, a silent movie where a man set adrift by a storm wakes up alone on an island, survives, and meets a red turtle who keeps him from leaving the island.

There’s more, but that feels like telling. Needless to say, The Red Turtle goes into directions you don’t necessarily expect. Conflictless directions largely, but directions that reveal a simple ethos at the heart of this film.

The Red Turtle is a film of gentle wonder, where the beauty sort of unfolds without announcement, more an “aww” than a gasp. A story of creation, a primal sort of story told through larger details.

Our people here have only the most basic assemblages of what we could call faces. Dots for eyes, lines for mouths (and they never speak outside of a few grunts and yells), and obscured mostly by hair. These are humans at their most simple, creating a new world.

And it’s that world around them that speaks for them. The humans are simple, but director Michael Dudok de Wit has created a lush and gorgeous island immersive in its detail. While we see little movement in it, the 2D environments seem to extend into forever, speaking to a sort of history that goes beyond these people and may continue after them.

The water is a particular achievement. Water has become a point of pride for animators as of late, its 3D motion in Moana was one of that film’s most stunning achievements, its constant and fluid motion turned it into a character all its own. Here, we have something similar, with far calmer waters, but waters no less impressive. The Red Turtle keeps them tranquil (minus a late sequence where it turns on this island), flowing slightly, stretching into forever.

All of that speaks to the world’s most important quality, it’s that this environment seems to be out of any control, despite that relative tranquility. This is a story of man and nature, but a nature that never needed him. It moves on, frightening only because it’s sort of indifferent to him, except for that Red Turtle, which becomes closer and closer to the man over the movie.

I have little to say here because The Red Turtle is a movie with little to discuss, a movie where its minor experiences and its experience of unfolding are more important than pulling them apart. It’s a film largely without conflict, a film that isn’t driving forward but moving along, a snapshot of something classical that we’ve missed. Your mileage may vary there, and it does turn a film that could stun into a film that simply wows, but The Red Turtle is something that’s worthwhile most in the experiencing, most in sitting back and letting the images dance before you.

Grade: A-