While The Red Turtle has Studio Ghibli behind it as a co-producer on the project, the film isn’t standard Ghibli fare. It has some of the hallmarks of a typical Ghibli film, but the feel of it is just not quite the same, and it’s very clear this is a co-production rather than a new Ghibli movie.
The Red Turtle opens on a man struggling to stay afloat in the ocean in the midst of a terrible storm. He washes up on the shores of a deserted island, discovering that he has just a handful of crabs and turtles for company. After exploring the island, he soon sets about trying to build himself a raft to get back to civilisation. But after a mysterious red turtle keeps him within its boundaries, he manages to make a life for himself and we follow his new life on the island.
In and of itself, The Red Turtle’s artwork is undeniably impressive. Writer-director Michaël Dudok de Wit and his animation team have done a terrific job of realising this castaway’s life, the creatures that live on the island, and the gorgeous landscape that surrounds them. The choices they made when designing the face style, however, somewhat put me off the characters, most notably in the beady eyes and sharp pointed nose that are a far cry from anything Ghibli’s Japanese animators would have crafted.
The way some of the scenes are animated and edited is also surprisingly weak in some places, with multiple scenes ending too abruptly and simply fading into the next. In part, I think this is down to a largely dialogue-free script. For the most part, there’s no talking. But infuriatingly, there is some talking, with inclusions of, ‘Hey!’ littered throughout. If these hadn’t been included, I could have gone along with the dialogue-free story. But with them, it leaves you wondering why there isn’t more, especially when the lack of dialogue means the story relies too much on what you project onto the characters, rather than giving you any real depth into them.
That said, it’s still a compelling story being told. There are plenty of things that ground it in both a real and fantastical world, as many of Ghibli’s greatest films do. The crabs in particular make for some brilliant humour throughout. It’s also intimate and personal but also universally relatable, which is not an easy feat to accomplish. I just wish that it lived up to its potential a little more, and didn’t rely quite so much on what we bring to it. Fans of the Japanese animation house will probably find more than enough to enjoy here, but it’s worth bearing in mind that this is a co-production, without as much input from Ghibli as I’d have hoped, and it shows in the final cut.