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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Red Turtle is a gorgeously animated, dialogue-free drama. The magical realism story may confuse younger viewers: A dead red turtle transforms into a human woman, who becomes the mate of the very man who caused the turtle's death. There's some peril and violence in this castaway story, including a few scenes in which a wooden raft is destroyed, an upsetting sequence in which a man cruelly causes an animal's death, and scenes in which a natural disaster hits the island. There's also a central love story between the stranded man and the turtle woman, with implied nudity (her long hair covers her body, but she's obviously naked at first), embracing, hand holding, and implied off-camera baby-making (although that's likely to go over kids' head). This collaboration between first-time feature director Michael Dudok de Wit and Japan's storied Studio Ghibli has themes of empathy and love, as well as strong messages about the importance of companionship and family.
What's the story?
THE RED TURTLE is a wordless animated drama that follows an unnamed castaway who washes ashore on a tropical island. He finds fruit, water, and bamboo and attempts to build a raft to escape. But he's foiled by an unseen beast that destroys the raft. Twice more he builds rafts and tries to escape, finally discovering that his nemesis is a giant red turtle. When the man sees the red turtle on his island, in a burst of rage, he hits it with a bamboo stick and pushes it onto its back. Guiltily, he realizes the turtle has died. But the next night, the turtle's shell cracks, and, magically, it transforms into a beautiful woman. The man and the turtle woman instantly connect. She sets her empty shell out to sea, and he gives up trying to leave the island. Years later, they have the son who grows up happy but feels a pull to explore the sea beyond their island home.
Is it any good?
Gorgeously animated, this wordless story about a stranded castaway pays tribute to what's most important in life: companionship, love, family, and the stewardship of nature. The man on the island starts off like Tom Hanks in Cast Away, desperate to get off the island. But unlike other stories about shipwrecked heroes, this main character loses his compulsion to escape once a companion magically appears. At that point, the island, like the turtle, transforms from something frightening and even predatory into something beautiful and welcoming -- a home instead of a prison.
It's clear why director Michael Dudok de Wit managed to impress Studio Ghibli into producing his debut feature. Yes, it's wordless (although there are plenty of little groans, grunts, and sounds), but it's still incredibly expressive. The animation is stunning: The evocative expressions on the three characters' faces, the vivid seascape, and the tiny gestures the humans make toward one another and the sea creatures that share their island home are all lovely. The final third of The Red Turtle will resonate especially well with parents, as they witness the inevitable way the son wants to launch out on his own. Some viewers may fixate on the magical realist way the turtle the man killed became the woman he loved for the rest of his life, but it's actually a fitting tribute to how love can grow out of even the bleakest of circumstances.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the peril/violence in The Red Turtle, particularly between the turtle and the man and nature and the man. Why do you think the man felt justified in hurting the turtle? How did he make up for it? How much scary stuff can young kids handle?
Does the fact the movie doesn't have any talking make you pay closer attention to the visuals and the score? Who do you think the movie's intended audience is?
What do you think the filmmaker is trying to say about the human need for companionship and the relationship between humans and nature?
- In theaters: January 20, 2017
- On DVD or streaming: May 2, 2017
- Director: Michaël Dudok de Wit
- Studio: Sony Pictures Classics
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: Magic and Fantasy, Ocean Creatures, Science and Nature
- Character Strengths: Empathy
- Run time: 80 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- MPAA explanation: some thematic elements and peril
- Awards/Honors: Common Sense Seal
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