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Oscar nominee ‘The Red Turtle’ treads water

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The voiceless man and turtle meet in The Red Turtle.
Mike D'Angelo

Two and a half stars

The Red Turtle Directed by Michael Dudok de Wit. Rated PG. Opens Friday at Century Suncoast.

Not an intelligible word is spoken in The Red Turtle, one of the five films up for Best Animated Feature at this year’s Academy Awards. Initially, the film’s unnamed protagonist—a man who looks to be maybe 30 or so—has nobody to talk to, having washed ashore on a deserted island. His efforts to return to civilization on a bamboo raft are repeatedly foiled by an enormous sea turtle, which mysteriously turns into a young woman after the man kills it in a fit of anger. The man will live the rest of his life on the island with this turtle woman, even fathering a child with her, but conversation is not part of the family routine.

This no-dialogue gimmick has the merit of focusing one’s attention on director Michael Dudok de Wit’s spare animation style, with its rich palette of daytime blues (ocean, sky) giving way to nighttime sepia. There’s not much else on offer, unfortunately, as the film’s skeletal, ostensibly fable-like narrative (scripted by Dudok de Wit with Pascale Ferran) employs its bizarre premise to remarkably banal ends. A tsunami toward the end of the movie provides fleeting excitement, but even at only 80 minutes, The Red Turtle feels much too small for its shell.

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