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The Red Turtle Blu-ray Review

The Red Turtle (2016) movie poster The Red Turtle (La tortue rouge)

US Theatrical Release: November 18, 2016 (French Release: June 29, 2016) / Running Time: 81 Minutes / Rating: PG

Director: Michaël Dudok de Wit / Writers: Michaël Dudok de Wit (original story, screenplay & adaptation), Pascale Ferran (adaptation)

Voice Cast: Emmanuel Garijo (The Father), Tom Hudson (The Son as a Young Adult), Baptiste Goy (The Son as a Child), Axel Devillers (The Son as a Baby), Barbara Beretta (The Mother)

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Most of the output of Studio Ghibli can be attributed to two writer-directors, Isao Takahata and the revered Hayao Miyazaki. At 76, Miyazaki is somewhat "retired" and Takahata, 81, has only directed one film in the past ten years.
What this means is that in order for the Japanese animation studio to have a future beyond its two most creatively inclined founders, it needs to let others take a chance at the helm. That is what Ghibli has been doing for the past several years. Miyazaki's son Goro has directed two movies (Tales from Earthsea, From Up on Poppy Hill), as has Hiromasa Yonebayashi (The Secret World of Arrietty, The Tale of the Princess Kaguya).

The Red Turtle, Ghibli's latest and their sixth film to receive an Academy Award nomination for Best Animated Feature, sees the studio collaborating with Wild Bunch, a Germany-based film sales and distribution company. This original film is directed and co-written by Michaël Dudok de Wit, a London-based Dutch animator who won a Best Animated Short Oscar for 2000's Father and Daughter.

Red Turtle sees a man become shipwrecked on a desert island. He does what most castaways would: look for food and try to find a way back to civilization. When the raft he builds is destroyed by a red turtle as large as him, he stomps on the animal and puts it on its back to die. Later, he is filled with remorse, only to discover that the red turtle has transformed into a beautiful woman who is alive and now his only company besides crabs, seals, and other aquatic life. The man and woman live their lives as castaways, giving birth to a son and enduring certain challenges.

A man is cast away on an island in the Academy Award-nominated animated film "The Red Turtle."

I guess by now I should point out that The Red Turtle has no dialogue. The screenplay, which also credits France's Pascale Ferran (Lady Chatterley, Bird People) with adaptation, must have largely consisted of stage directions,
with characters only opening their mouths rarely to grunt or howl. That simplifies the typical anime viewer's dilemma of whether to watch the movie dubbed or subtitled in English. It also eliminated any need to assemble an English voice cast with marketable talent, something that distinguished Disney's North American importations of Ghibli features.

Red Turtle does not suffer from its lack of dialogue. It tells its story with Ghibli's tasteful signature 2D visuals and an appealing score by Laurent Perez del Mar, also of France. The design does not particularly present additional challenges for adults open-minded enough to be watching a foreign animated film. Plenty of children, however, probably will be bored, unfortunately, and unwilling or unable to appreciate the poetry of the presentation, which should be evident for the niche audience that Sony Pictures Classics targeted in the film's limited North American theatrical release.

Red Turtle's Oscar nomination made it along with My Life as a Zucchini one of two obscure foreign 'toons sharing the Animated Feature category with the Disney blockbusters Zootopia and Moana and Laika's widely-released and fairly respected Kubo and the Two Strings. The Academy has regularly nominated international works with minimal commercial prospects for Best Animated Feature, but since Miyazaki's Spirited Away won in 2002-03, the actual award has almost exclusively gone to computer-animated, family-friendly American films with nine or even ten-figure grosses. As such, it was little surprise that Disney continued their domination of the Oscar with a win for Zootopia. Between Pixar and their much older in-house animation branch, Disney hasn't lost the award since 2011-12 went to Rango.

Nonetheless, The Red Turtle deserves to be seen, not merely to check off a box on your Oscar viewing list, but to appreciate for a different artistic approach to a medium whose vast possibilities are too rarely explored. Not surprisingly, despite the critical acclaim that this drew, there wasn't a huge audience for the film in North America, where it grossed just over $900 thousand from a max theater count of 127. Unlike Ghibli's usual productions, this one didn't even play in Japan, doing its biggest business in France.

This week, Sony brought the film to DVD and Blu-ray, with its nomination and Certified Fresh Rotten Tomatoes status proudly emblazoned on its covers.

The Red Turtle: Blu-ray cover art - click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray Disc Details

1.85:1 Widescreen
5.1 DTS-HD MA (No Dialogue), Dolby Digital 5.1 (English Descriptive Video Service)
Subtitles: English, English for Hearing Impaired, Portuguese, Spanish
Not Closed Captioned; Extras Subtitled
Release Date: May 2, 2017
Suggested Retail Price: $30.99
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (BD-50)
Blue Keepcase with Side Snap in Cardboard Slipcover
Also available on DVD ($26.99 SRP) and Amazon Instant Video

VIDEO and AUDIO

No matter the medium, animated films always end up somewhere digitally these days, which enables their transfers to Blu-ray to be direct and as perfect as 1080p allows. The Red Turtle's 1.85:1 presentation is no exception, displaying the appealing 2D visuals with vibrant colors and suitable clarity. The 5.1 DTS-HD master audio soundtrack does a fine job of distributing music and effects.

Writer-director Michael Dudok de Wit makes up for the film's lack of dialogue with an audio commentary, a one-hour interview, and more. Michael Dudok de Wit demonstrates how to draw a turtle in "The Secrets of 'The Red Turtle.'"

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

The Blu-ray's extras begin with an English audio commentary by writer-director Michael Dudok de Wit. He gives a passionate and informative track, speaking with regard to what's on screen and explaining the way it
is and how it came about. Among the topics he touches upon are live-action reference, animation challenges, avoiding nudity even if it would have made sense, and the complete absence of dialogue.

If you prefer to watch than just hear, you may prefer "The Birth of The Red Turtle" (56:36), an extended interview with Dudok de wit. There's a catch, though: it's in French, with English subtitles. The director's remarks are complemented by looks at the concept art and storyboards he created in developing the film. Many will find it too technical or too long, but the artistically inclined may appreciate this level of detail.

"The Secrets of The Red Turtle" (17:45), also presented in French with English subtitles, lets Dudok de Wit draw characters and scenery, while talking about it. It's like a drawing lesson without being explicitly that.

Michael Dudok de Wit answers questions at The Red Turtle's AFI Q & A panel. The Red Turtle's poster design serves as the Blu-ray's top menu, with over four minutes of score laid over it.

Then, we get The Red Turtle's AFI Fest Q & A (20:47), which has the director briefly interviewed by AFI Associate Programmer Michael Dougherty before answering audience questions. There's some overlap with the other pieces, but Dudok de Wit also covers some new ground here.

As usual per Sony Pictures Classics' practices,
The Red Turtle's North American theatrical trailer (1:59) is kindly preserved here.

Finally, Previews repeats the disc-opening trailers for Our Little Sister, The Eagle Huntress, and Dark Horse.

The menu applies score over a static image.

The full-color disc (a luxury not extended to this year's Best Animated Feature Oscar) is held in an insert-less, side-snapped keepcase which is topped by a glossy slipcover.

The large, eponymous red turtle transforms into something else in "The Red Turtle."

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Anyone who is sick of how much of contemporary animated cinema is animals talking ought to check out The Red Turtle. This dialogue-less production requires, but rewards patience and wins you over with artistry rarely found in the medium. Sony's Blu-ray offers a first-rate feature presentation plus a solid assembly of extras. It's well worth a look.

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Related Reviews:
2016 Best Animated Feature Nominees: Kubo and the Two StringsZootopiaMoana
Studio Ghibli: From Up on Poppy HillCastle in the SkyMy Neighbor TotoroHowl's Moving CastleGrave of the FirefliesPonyo
New to Disc: LionThe FounderRingsGoldGhost in the Shell (Steelbook) • Tangled: Before Ever After
The Wild LifeWhen the Wind BlowsSwiss Army Man

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Reviewed May 3, 2017.



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