The Red Turtle review

By Ryan Keating-Lambert


Studio Ghibli are back, this time with French director Michal Dudok de Wit. Unlike the red turtle in the movie though, there isn’t anything profoundly magical under that smooth and glossy exterior.

Our story opens with a man stranded in the middle of the ocean in a fierce storm. After washing up onto the shore of a beautiful island, he survives on fruit and devises a plan to escape by a boat made from bamboo. However, a red turtle destroys all three attempts at escaping before he finally gives up on his plan, and instead focuses on the motives of the turtle itself.

This is the first film by Japanese Studio Ghibli (Spirited Away, Howl’s Moving Castle) to be directed by a foreigner, and only required a crew of six people from the studio; though you wouldn’t know by how detailed and unbelievably pretty everything looks… down to the last crab. Wit was asked by Ghibli if they could distribute his first short film  Father and Daughter in Japan, before they finally asked him to make a feature film.

Stuido Ghibli seems to have quite the following now, and I really don’t want to step on anyone’s toes here but honestly, I’m not such a fan of their work. Despite the animations being beautiful, imaginative and all round impressive, the narrative always seems to dive off into different directions and promote pretentious discussion about underlying themes and symbolism. Did anyone stop to think that maybe the movies aren’t suppsoed to make sense? That there is actually no underlying theme or genius factor going on? To me, they’re fun animations made to entertain and that’s about it. I always find my thoughts wandering, especially in Spirited Away which happens to be the crowd favourite. Is there anyone else out there that doesn’t like this film? If there is, put your hand up. I’d love to meet you!

The Red Turtle is a little different to the usual Ghibli productions because there is no dialogue. The narrative is also reasonably straight forward aside from a couple of magical scenes that you can probably just fill in with your imagination. It’s almost like a fable or urban legend that you might hear at sea. A story that fisherman tell over too many whiskeys. Unfortunately for me though, there just wasn’t enough to take out of it. There were several moments when I thought the film would end, after a particularly magical scene or key plot point, but it just kept on going with uneccessary details – kind of like the ending to The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.  I loved the little crabs though.

But, the animation and sound is extremely detailed and almost dream like in quality and character. I was really taken aback by how beautiful it was in the first few scenes. The island is teeming with life and colour and clearly, a lot of careful craftsmanship has gone into this, as with every Ghibli film.

Not bad, but could’ve been a bit more engaging.

Feature photo: Japan Times



  1. The Red Turtle is the exact opposite: It’s a story for adults told with the simplicity of a nursery fable. It can be read as a metaphor for being stuck in life, whether literally on an island or figuratively in a job, a relationship, or a town that you hate, and about making peace with that situation.


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