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Saying not a single word but conveying tons of meaning in every moment, the animated "The Red Turtle" is a fable that is as simple as it is beautiful.
The story begins with a castaway, a man stranded on an island in the middle of the ocean. The man gets the lay of the land, figures out how to feed and shelter himself. After a while, he gets to work felling trees from a bamboo grove, to lash together a raft on which he can sail and return to civilization.
When he gets onto the ocean, he doesn't get far before something bumps the raft from below, tearing it apart. He wakes up later, on the beach again. He tries this a couple of times before he discovers what is sabotaging his efforts: a sea turtle, about as big as the man, with a red shell and an inquisitive look.
The man soon realizes the turtle isn't a threat, but wants to engage with him. They swim together for a while, but then the turtle disappears. Not long after, when the man finds he misses the turtle, another creature emerges from the water: a woman with red hair. Is it a coincidence? Or is there a link between this woman and the turtle?
Dutch director Michael Dudok de Wit, who collaborated on the screenplay with Pascale Ferran, lets this tale unfold organically. The images of sun glinting off the ocean, of crabs scavenging for food on the beach, and of the man and the woman sharing a life on the island are so strong, so evocative, that any dialogue would seem superfluous.
"The Red Turtle" is one of the Academy Award nominees in the animated feature category. It has an even rarer distinction as the first movie made outside Japan to be distributed by the legendary Studio Ghibli home to Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata.
"The Red Turtle" shares that Ghibli spirit, though, with scenarios that jump into fantasy while staying grounded in genuine emotion. As this gently powerful story proceeds through the cycle of life, one would have to have a heart harder than a turtle shell not to be moved.
'The Red Turtle'
A castaway has an encounter with a turtle in this beautiful animated fable.
Where • Broadway Centre Cinemas.
When • Opens Friday, Feb. 24.
Rating • PG for some thematic elements and peril.
Running time • 80 minutes.