A stunning feature film debut from Dutch animator MichaŽl Dudok de Wit, The Red Turtle (2016) is another welcome standout in the fading but not forgotten world of hand-drawn animation. Decades earlier, the director (and co-writer, with French screenwriter Pascale Ferran) cut his teeth on a handful of short animated films beginning in 1978, with his Oscar-winning Father and Daughter (2000) eventually attracting the attention of top-level employees at Japan's Studio Ghibli. De Wit was contacted directly by the studio in 2006 and encouraged to pitch a feature-length film idea, which would be co-produced by Studio Ghibli and German distributor Wild Bunch. Painstakingly animated over several years by a small but dedicated group of hand-picked artists (many of whom were required to live on-site), the result is a wordless emotional roller coaster that just might be one of the best animated films this century.
Though its details and meaning are largely open for interpretation, the basic plot elements of The Red Turtle---that is, what we see on the surface---are universal enough to play perfectly well to any culture or age demographic. A nameless man (who may very well be the same guy from Father and Daughter), lost at sea, is marooned on what appears to be a deserted island. Multiple escape attempts via bamboo rafts are thwarted by a large red turtle, who breaks them from below and eventually follows the man back "home". In a rage, he flips the turtle over on its back, leaving it to die on the beach, where it later transforms into a young woman. The party of two becomes three, and what follows is a mixture of tranquility, sorrow, and acceptance during the next several decades.
Running an exceptionally brisk and fat-free 81 minutes, The Red Turtle offers a refreshing change of pace from typical animated fare. Its complete lack of dialogue speaks volumes about the creative team's ability to tell an effective and often moving tale entirely through visuals, especially since a only a handful of close-ups are used during the entire production. Through body language, subtle expressions, placement, careful framing, and even the occasional dream sequence, we feel instantly at home on the island with all three of its inhabitants. Whether or not the events are really happening---and for what reasons, if any---are entirely up for debate, as a number of visual clues and other subtle touches remind us that what we're seeing and hearing doesn't always represent the entire story. Luckily, the film's expert craftsmanship makes The Red Turtle well worth exploring: highlighted by its fantastic and natural-looking animation, not to mention an incredibly rich and emotionally-charged original score by Laurent Perez del Mar, it's a universally moving dramatic experience that will play just as well decades from now.
Presented on Blu-ray by Sony Pictures Classics, The Red Turtle arrives stateside five months after its home video debut in France. Luckily, this fantastic package proves to be well worth the wait: featuring a pitch-perfect A/V presentation and a handful of informative bonus features, it's a true keeper for animation lovers of all ages.
Quality Control Department
Video & Audio Quality
Presented in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio, this 1080p transfer of The Red Turtle looks flawless from start to finish. The film's terrific color palette is an easy standout, from the pale grey of nighttime to the rich golden hues of sunset and hazy green bamboo forests. Black levels and shadow detail are exceptional as well. Drawn largely by hand, the line work looks especially smooth and crisp, with no obvious signs of aliasing (jagged edges) or unnatural softness. Other digital imperfections are also virtually absent, including edge enhancement, banding, and compression artifacts. The stylish backgrounds, many of which display a subtle charcoal-like texture, are quite eye-catching. Overall, any film that hinges so critically on the strength and clarity of its visuals needs a strong transfer to back it up, and it's obvious that Sony's presentation of The Red Turtle will meet or exceed most expectations.
DISCLAIMER: The images featured on this page are from the film's official website and do not represent the Blu-ray under review.
Presented in lossless DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio (listed as English and with optional subtitles, although the only spoken word is "Hey!"), The Red Turtle offers a strong and incredibly immersive atmosphere that's preserved here perfectly. Featuring great dynamic range and solid channel separation, there's no shortage of subtle and not-so-subtle background details that really ramp up the film's wide and lonely world. Laurent Perez del Mar's score is another easy standout, swelling at the right moments and occasionally dominating the sonic landscape with rich detail.
Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging
The static interface includes options for chapter selection, setup, and bonus features. This one-disc package arrives in a standard keepcase with a slipcover that replicates its gaudy cover artwork. No inserts are included.
Fortunately, there's plenty of great material here with very little fat around the edges. First and foremost is a feature-length Audio Commentary
with director and co-writer MichaŽl Dudok de Wit, who speaks at length about his first full-length film. Topics of discussion include The Red Turtle
's unlikely beginning in November 2006, hand drawn and CGI elements, the main character as a blank slate, assembling an animation team, the subtle line between dreams and reality, avoiding spoilers, charcoal and Photoshop, using natural movement, clothes vs. nudity, removing a few lines of dialogue, Gregory Colbert's Ashes and Snow
(long out of print on DVD, unfortunately), the natural presence of death, editing the animatic, working with international producers, and much more. De Wit also identifies several of the film's key animators during the scene(s) they worked on, and speaks in a humble and easygoing manner. Unlike a few other bonus features included here, this commentary is presented in English with optional subtitles.
Two mid-length Featurettes delve a bit further into the film's production and development. "The Birth of The Red Turtle" (57 minutes) is heavy on concept art and details about character design, backgrounds, the storyboarding and animatic process, forming the narrative structure, human acting and visual reference points, and a lot more, with plenty of contributions from director MichaŽl Dudok de Wit. "Secrets of The Red Turtle" (57 minutes) takes a similar approach while focusing more specifically on the characters and natural animation style, with more face time and a few short drawing lessons from the director. Both are presented in French with optional English subtitles.
Next up is a brief but informative AFI Fest Q&A Session (21 minutes) recorded in November 2016, featuring the director and hosted by AFI Associate Programmer Michael Dougherty. Not surprisingly, the collaboration with Studio Ghibli is brought up immediately...and though a few anecdotes are repeated elsewhere, several questions from the audience manage to explore some different territory. It's presented in English, once again with optional subtitles.
Finally, we get the film's North American Theatrical Trailer (2 minutes), which I encourage new viewers to watch after the movie; it's one that spells out nearly the entire story, but at least plays to the film's strengths by avoiding voice-over narration. Also included are a few Previews for other Sony Picture Classics Blu-rays and DVDs.
Emotionally wrenching and beautifully animated, MichaŽl Dudok de Wit's The Red Turtle is a striking debut on par with the century's best animated films. More of a tonal poem than a conventional narrative, it manages to squeeze every last drop from minimal ingredients: three human characters, no antagonist, and not so much as a word of on-screen text to lead viewers around by the nose. Largely hand-drawn by a small team of animators over several years, it's obvious that a great deal of love and care went into every aspect of this production. Without question, it's a truly timeless film that will most likely play just as well decades from now. Sony Pictures' Blu-ray presentation adds plenty of support, including an fantastic A/V presentation and a number of extremely valuable and informative supplements. Without question, one of the year's best releases in any genre. DVD Talk Collector's Series.
Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey by day and film reviewer by night. He also does freelance design work, teaches art classes and runs a website or two. In his limited free time, Randy also enjoys slacking off, juggling HD DVDs and writing in third person.