Written and directed by Dutch filmmaker Michael Dudok de Wit and co-produced by Studio Ghibli, The Red Turtle is the sort of animated film that allows a viewer to both relax and contemplate life. That second point may seem like a bold claim, but there is real majesty to the way this wonderfully composed, hand-drawn animated film unfolds. Presenting things rather simply, yet fairly striking in presentation, the Oscar-nominated animated feature may not provide the blockbuster thrills in the same way its competition from 2017 did, but there is certainly plenty to take in, which also has the benefit of leaving a viewer at ease.
Taking a cue from “Robinson Caruso,” before adding a layer of fantasy to its tale, a nameless man washes ashore a deserted island. After exploring the island, which is full of vegetation and animal life, the man builds a raft out of bamboo in an attempt to sail away. He is disrupted by some sort of force, leading to the creation of another raft, and another. The man learns that a giant red turtle is thwarting his plans for some reason. A confrontation with the turtle takes the story to a new level.
Part of the joy comes from discovery, as is often the case. While only 80 minutes, the few developments that occur from a plot standpoint allow for a level of impact that can be quite affecting. This is all made possible by the wonderful handling of the animation and the beautiful score by Laurent Perez del Mar. The film contains no dialogue, so the music and art style is really the only way it as to convey so much. It ends up working very well, as the film is able to build a strong connection between the viewer and the man, let alone other characters that eventually fill out the story.
From an animation standpoint, there is plenty to enjoy as far as the style of the characters and the landscapes presented. More interesting is the way this film plays with lighting. Given the hand-drawn approach (with some digital work), the way the sun affects the coloring of various scenes is always interesting. Scenes set at night have a specific approach to shading; hot afternoons emphasize the power of a sun that can bake the sand. Stormy weather allows for even more dynamic moments that change up the scenery.
There is also plenty to be said about the journey of this nameless man and how the film manages to subtly switch its primary focus at a key point. It allows for the extra level of emotion that really goes far to make such a seemingly simple film find something to say. Between that and the terrific presentation of the film as a whole, The Red Turtle is a fine animated experience.
With a recent change in the Academy’s rules regarding animated features considered for the Best Animated Feature category, there is real risk of smaller films like this not finding the audience it would need to reach a broader audience. That would be a shame, as The Red Turtle really has plenty to offer to any viewer, even if it would continue to merely secure a release on an arthouse scale. The film is a memorable experience to take in and surely a discovery that many would benefit from.
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Clarity/Detail: The wonderful hand-drawn animation shines on Blu-ray, as the film is so full of elaborate designs, which is interesting given the film’s simplicity. The ways The Red Turtle moves through different environments, despite being set entirely in one main location is great to take in on a visual level. This transfer does a fine job of making it all register with plenty of clarity.
Depth: Despite being a 2D animated feature, you actually get a good sense of dimensionality based on how the animation plays for the film and the quality of this Blu-ray.
Black Levels: Black levels are deep and rich. There’s a lot of play with gray tones during night, which shine thanks to the quality levels of this Blu-ray.
Color Reproduction: Colors pop here and it’s wonderful. There are a lot of primary colors at work here and it is a huge benefit to the film that has such a wonderful atmosphere created by its landscape, design and visual design.
Flesh Tones: N/A
Audio Format(s): English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, English – Audio Description Track 5.1 Dolby Digital
Subtitles: English, English SDH, Portuguese, Spanish
Dynamics: Right away, the film kicks off with a violent storm which plays into every aspect of sound. Things calm down after, but audiences are still treated to a variety of sound effects and ambient noise, with some scoring to balance it all out. It comes through very well.
Low Frequency Extension: Some story sequences and the sounds of the ocean tend to give the LFE channel plenty of life.
Surround Sound Presentation: A great job has been done to spread the sound all around the various channels. Given the minimalist ideas going on for a good chunk of the film, it pays off to allow the rear channels to help fill in the atmosphere. At the same time, when things get more involved or intense, the center and front channels do plenty of heavy lifting for this lossless soundtrack.
Dialogue Reproduction: There are some exclamations, but there is really no one to listen to.
The Red Turtle comes packed with several worthwhile special features, including a commentary, some featurettes and a Q&A. It does plenty to provide a look at what went into creating this film, while still allowing an appropriately ambiguous film to retain its enigmatic qualities.
- Commentary with Michael Dudok de Wit – This fantastic track goes into all aspects of the film, including the ambition behind getting animators to work on the film, many of the ideas behind the film’s origins and some other bits of trivia. Dudok de Wit also speaks English for this track, for those curious.
- The Birth of The Red Turtle (HD, 56:36) – This French-language making-of featurette goes in-depth on the process of creating this film.
- The Secrets of The Red Turtle (HD, 17:45) – A look at how the animation came together.
- The Red Turtle at AFI Fest Q&A (HD, 20:47) – A solid Q&A, in English, which allows for further details to be shared about the film.
- Trailers (HD)
The Red Turtle is another one of the great animated films from 2016. At 80 minutes, it’s a testament to just how good a story can really be when you play well with efficiency. It’s simple, yet deep, emotional, moving and technically excellent. The Blu-ray is terrific all-around, with amazing audio and video transfers, along with a great set of extras. Animation fans will surely want to look out for this one.
Order Your Copy Here: