By Tye Musante, Staff Writer
The minute the newest Studio Ghibli film “The Red Turtle” begins, it is immediately noticeable how striking and rich the sound production is in the film. Lush soundscapes include crashing waves, chirping birds and wild storms take the place of dialogue. The opening finds viewers following an unfortunate traveler who has had his ship destroyed by what appears to be a hurricane. He finds himself on a remote island in the middle of nowhere, and what follows is a chronicle of his struggles and adventures on this island.
Once he establishes a means of finding shelter and food, he tries to no avail to escape the island and fails over and over and over again. The story is tethered by themes of family, magic and inheritance.
This is by no means your typical Studio Ghibli film. Longtime fans may remember the famous Japanese studio’s standout classics “Spirited Away” and “Castle In the Sky.” However, “Turtle” is very family friendly and heartwarming at every turn, and remarkably dissimilar to anything the studio has put out before. As it portrays the key events in the life of a human being, tears will fall and memories will come flooding back to its viewers. “Turtle” succeeds at doing what it aims to do — provide a cute, family-friendly adventure with beautiful artistic design.
The most remarkable thing about the film is the way the animals in the story take on their own distinct personalities. The turtles — and there are plenty — are wise, fearless and playful. The crabs, who also live on the island, are cautious and hesitant, but still curious and collaborative.
The interactions between the turtles and the crabs are some of the most heartfelt in the film, and do a splendid job of establishing character in both species. Meanwhile, the human characters in the film, who have no dialogue, express themselves efficiently with grunts, yells and facial expressions. The film’s gorgeous score does a beautiful job at filling the void where conversation could potentially have been.
The only problem with the film is that — partially due to the lack of dialogue, and partially due to the extended sequences of passing time — it comes off as a bit sleepy. It grabs your attention and keeps it for a while, but somewhere in the middle it wouldn’t be surprising if viewers started to daydream about something else.
While the sound design in “Turtle” is praiseworthy, and the score is definitely beautiful, it could have been more thrilling and less minimalistic to compliment the film’s more intense sequences. The fact that music in the film is so sparse is precisely what makes it so boring at certain points. The adventure unfolding itself in the movie would be well complimented by more scoring, and ultimately would have saved the film from being so sleepy.
The other major problem is the fact that the magic elements in “Turtle” are never explained or delved into further, and that can be frustrating and annoying. That, however, is more easily written off as a stylistic choice. Viewers will ultimately find themselves captivated by the sounds and sights “The Red Turtle” has to offer, but not its story.
“The Red Turtle” is currently playing at Lincoln Plaza Cinemas 6.