Ernest is a poor bear down on his luck (and money. And food) and Celestine is a dentist-apprentice/page mouse who doesn’t really like her job all that much and doesn’t care that Bears are supposed to eat Mice and that Mice should be scared of Bears. Once caught by Ernest the hungry bear, she lays out her case for why he shouldn’t be eating her, and – wouldn’t you know it? Ernest puts her down. They become friends. Then they get into trouble rummaging for food and bear teeth (baby bear teeth are used by dentist mice to give rodents a new set of teeth when their own pair gets worn down). Which gets them into trouble with their respective societies, who behave in startlingly similar ways: vociferous rejection of even the consideration of the possibility that a Mouse (because they weren’t really considering Celestine, per se) and a Bear (because they weren’t really considering Ernest personally either, really) could be friends.
If you have yet to be acquainted with Studio Ghibli productions, please take a look through our collection now. (You’ll find that The Red Turtle is quite different from the rest of Studio Ghibli’s productions though, as the story and screenplay were by Michael Dudok de Wit, and the style makes me think Studio Ghibli played a slightly more minor role in this production than in their other animations. That being said, the moment I saw the trailer for The Red Turtle, I immediately recognized those waves – Ghibli had its hand in there somewhere, even if it was so very different from what I had come to expect in terms of style. )
While this film will likely leave you with more questions than you entered with, as well as make you wonder if you’re overanalyzing the plot, and possible symbols, or if you should simply take it as it is, it’s well worth watching this slow and quiet epic, and it ages quite well as you return to it. There are no words throughout, though there is some frustrated screaming into the ocean – and I know that Shaun the Sheep was much praised for the same thing (being wordless, that is, not for its screaming into the ocean), but this is a different use of wordless animation that will probably appeal more to adult audiences – so you end up relying a lot on the beautiful soundtrack, though even in the moments with neither music nor words, the sound of the trees rustling, hurried breathing, a panicked noise, are more than enough to relay the emotions within each scene.
The Red Turtle hasn’t been released on DVD/Blu-ray yet, but it’s still playing (at the time of writing this post) at the TIFF, so go see it if you get the chance!
Here are some other films that you might like if you’re either thinking of seeing this or enjoyed it:
At the end of Skam’s third season, three words shine across a dark screen: “ALT ER LOVE.” “Everything is love”, in Norwegian. If you spend as much time on the Internet as I do, you may have heard of the little teen show from Norway that has become a viral phenomenon. It’s easily one of the most binge-able shows ever (flashback to me marathoning season one on New Year’s Eve, and only stopping because my plans got in the way) and it will briefly take over your life. Of course, an American adaptation has already been announced. In the grand tradition of teen shows, Skam deals with a variety of issues. But show creator Julie Andem wanted it to be as honest as possible: no character is wholly good or bad, and they all have a lot of learning to do. And isn’t that exactly what growing up is? Eva must face the consequences of betraying a friend; cool feminist Noora can be preachy and hypocritical; and Isak’s internalized homophobia rises when he falls for the enigmatic Even. The issues aren’t high drama; they’re relatable. And it’s all handled in such a normal way that it’s easy to forget it’s fictional.