A consistently intelligent (or at least bright), coherently constructed comedy that is on occasion a rather pointed critique of the American education system in the…
French/Japanese fable "The Red Turtle" is one of those rare animated movies that transports you to a different setting without demanding that you focus on narrative or character development. Instead, viewers are encouraged to fall in love with an environment, specifically a small tropical island on which a nondescript, mute castaway inexplicably finds himself shipwrecked. This focus on setting over narrative is crucial since "The Red Turtle" follows the normalization of one man's romance with nature. Because this is a fable, the above-mentioned romance is quite literal: our nameless castaway falls in love with a shapeshifting turtle that transforms into a beautiful naked woman. He also inevitably stops trying to escape his surroundings, and starts to build a home on the island.
That may sound like a major spoiler, but "The Red Turtle" is a mood piece for children, so plot twists don't really matter. The film, which was produced by Japanese animation studio Studio Ghibli, has an intricately-articulated, and confidently-utilized hand-drawn style that lures you in, and makes you want to accept such a blunt, bleeding-heart metaphor for ecological awareness.
"The Red Turtle" begins as a "Robinson Crusoe"-style man vs. nature-style narrative, a mode that viewers should be comfortable and/or familiar with. You know this story: a man arrives on an island and must, through sheer force of conviction and ingenuity, rescue himself by creating shelter, foraging for food, and building a raft to escape. The main difference between this type of story and the one that "The Red Turtle" eventually becomes is that there's always something that's entreating or trying to catch the viewer's eye, whether it's blessedly un-anthropomorophosized crabs, or a forest of gently swaying bamboo shoots. There is subsequently a subtle tension at play at the beginning of the film: the island's personality asserts itself even as we are encouraged to get caught up in our hero's captivating routine of building a raft, trying (and repeatedly failing) to escape, daydreaming while gazing at the moon, and then inevitably repeating this makeshift procedure.
That tension comes to a head once the title character appears. She is, at first, an invisible, seemingly adversarial presence that stops the film's castaway protagonist from breaking away from his island prison. She destroys his raft, though at first it's hard to tell what's happening since she retreats from view every time he tries to catch a glimpse of her.