Fantastic Fest Review: The Red Turtle

Dutch animator teams with Studio Ghibli for wordless, immersive film

Writer/director Michaël Dudok de Wit’s new feature film, The Red Turtle (co-produced by Studio Ghibli), seems a far cry from Fantastic Fest’s staple horror and sci-fi lineup. But sometimes even the most worm-ridden zombie heart needs a little warming.

In 2001, Dudok de Wit won an Oscar for best animated short with “Father and Daughter,” an exploration of how a daughter copes with the loss of her parent. Its touching storyline and lovely animation left audiences worldwide reciting a familiar refrain: “Shut up! You’re crying!” His newest film, The Red Turtle, which premiered at Cannes earlier this year, expands on the very best of the award-winning short. So much so, I’m now ready to admit it: I am, indeed, the one crying – along with most of the theatre at the screening.

Although Studio Ghibli (My Neighbor Totoro, Spirited Away) co-produced the film, don’t look for any richly colored, mind-bending cat buses in it. The film keeps Dudok de Wit’s more subtle animation style, which works well with the storyline. The plot focuses on a castaway who washes up on a deserted island. For some quarter of the film, we’re left with him and his struggle to survive. He’s a starkly animated figure on an otherwise muted, watercolor world. Everything changes when, in an effort to flee the island, he meets a red turtle. The exchange marks the introduction of a mysterious islander, with whom our hero falls in love. The story takes off from there. In its short 81 minutes (and without the use of dialogue) the film meditates on life, death, rebirth, family, and humanity’s mystic relationship with nature. At times it feels reminiscent of the graphic novel Three Shadows, by Disney animator Cyril Pedrosa, and at other times it feels like a prophetic dreamscape. Its ability to cover so much ground without losing its sense of cohesion and unique style speaks to Dudok de Wit’s skill as both a visual artist and storyteller. And although it’s a stylistic leap from Studio Ghibli‘s beloved classics, its contemplation of such familiar themes will no doubt resonate with soot sprite and river spirit fans alike.


The Red Turtle screens again Monday, Sept. 26, 11:45am.

Fantastic Fest 2016 runs Sept. 22-29 at the Alamo South Lamar. Tickets and info at www.fantasticfest.com, and follow our ongoing coverage at austinchronicle.com/fantastic-fest.

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Fantastic Fest 2016, Fantastic Fest, The Red Turtle

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