Tuesday, March 07, 2017

OVP: The Red Turtle (2016)

Film: The Red Turtle (2016)
Director: Michael Dudok de Wit
Oscar History: 1 nomination (Best Animated Feature Film)
Snap Judgment Ranking: 4/5 stars

The best movies, or the ones that most frequently are celebrated, are the ones that make us think profound thoughts and question the world we live in with a little more care than we did before.  Films like Moonlight or Jackie-elegant, sophisticated, frequently very big or grand or new or important.  But there's another caste of movies that can occasionally pull off perhaps a bigger, harder trick, and that is finding a way to be profound in the simple.  Elegant without complicated politics, and finding the pain and joy in just life.  It's a hard feat, and it's arguably the rarest of breeds of film, but they do exist.  Think Bambi.  Think The Bicycle Thief.  And now think The Red Turtle, a beautiful story told through glowing animation and a wonderfully-even hand from director Michael Dudok de Wit.

(Spoilers Ahead) The story of the movie is about a nameless man who is stranded on a deserted island after a shipwreck.  Though he is able to sustain himself with water and food, he attempts to leave the island by a raft, and continually is thwarted in his attempts by a mysterious creature, eventually seen to be the titular red turtle.  The man seeks revenge on the turtle when it comes inland by flipping it on its back and though he tries to revive it, it is too late and the turtle has died.  The dead turtle, though, has a second life to it it seems, and turns into a beautiful woman.  Though they initially are apprehensive of each other, they form a tight bond and have a son.  The son grows up similar to his mother (with red hair), and after a storm ravages their island home (destroying the forest), the now young man goes out and swims as a turtle, even though he is a man, leaving his parents behind.  Decades later, the man dies in his sleep with the woman he loves, who then turns back, agelessly into the red turtle and returns out to sea.

The movie's story is pretty slight, but that works in its favor, in my opinion.  There are a lot of great big ideas here (love, loneliness, destiny, death), but we don't have to have them underlined or accentuated with dialogue or heavy-handedly pointed out by the director.  Instead we get a relatively simple story, and once you start to feel the mood of the film, they kind of wash over you.  The scene, for example, where the man tries to revive the turtle, realizing what a wonderful creature he's destroyed, is heartbreaking, and I can't recall the last time that I feared more for a main character than when the man fell down a crevasse into the water, realizing there is no way out except to swim down into the abyss, praying for a way out of the cavern.  I literally was clutching my heart that entire sequence, desperate for him to find an escape and realizing how impossibly dangerous this entire situation was.  There are moments in the story where it's not entirely sure what the message the director wants to get across is, but that's only a bit of a slight on the film-I always prefer ambiguity to a movie than it repetitively pointing out the same moral over and over again.

The movie is gorgeously animated, using color very sparingly to accent the special nature of the red turtle (I don't recall the color red ever being used in the film outside the turtle/woman and the son), and the black-and-white dreams paint an even bleaker portrait.  Honestly-the color here is exceptional, and in comparison to even some of the great animated work done this past year (particularly in Moana), I don't know that I saw an animated feature that was more carefully and gorgeously drawn than this picture.  I mean-look at the way the green falls across the trees or the overpowering blue of the ocean.  It's a treat to watch-get it on Blu-Ray if you can (or the big screen if that's an option), but get your personage next to this.  It's a very special movie, one that won't leave me for a while.  If this is what Studio Ghibli can do without Miyazaki, I encourage them to keep it up.

Those are my thoughts-how about yours?  I teetered between the four and the five star mark, for the record, but thanks to the vagueness I'm sticking oh-so-slightly to four stars, but know that this is a serious contender in the Animated Feature OVP when we get to it.  Speaking of, in what ended up being a really strong set of nominees, who was your favorite-Zucchini, Zootopia, Kubo, Moana, or our scarlet turtle?  Share below!

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