If youíre expecting ďRed TurtleĒ to be a raucous animated tale with anthropomorphic critters conversing in pop-culture cliches, youíre in for an acute case of shell shock. Michael Dudok De Witís much-praised ink-and-brush tale is strictly for the arts crowd. Slow, lumbering and deeply esoteric. But if you possess patience and a yen for the stylings of Japanís Studio Ghibli, ďRed TurtleĒ just might crawl into your good graces.

Most, though, will be like me: Often bored, unmoved and perplexed by how a large sea turtle magically turns into a beautiful woman; but more on that later. The show here isnít the dialogue-free story; itís the gorgeous animation that has a pleasant calming effect. Like a series of hypnotic watercolor paintings come to life, ďRed TurtleĒ seduces and transfixes with its deceptively simple images of lovely seascapes in a tropical paradise.

The scene is a deserted South Pacific island that quite unexpectedly becomes home for a malnourished castaway. The man, who washes ashore with the tide, is at first fascinating to watch, as he resourcefully acclimates to a lonely life in which his only companions are the side-waddling crustaceans and, yes, turtles ó one in particular, who for some reason doesnít want our poor soul to leave. This is Act 1, and De Wit and his animators prove evocative in portraying manís capacity to adapt and persist in a love-hate relationship with nature. Then comes Act 2, when the aforementioned sea turtle persists in destroying raft after raft the castaway builds in hopes of reconnecting with civilization. But why? The reason soon reveals itself, but you might not want to accept it, as De Wit borrows liberally from the Irish legend of the selkie by turning the turtle into a woman who ó lucky for the castaway ó is both comely and the same age. Even better, they fall in love at first sight. What are the odds? Their ensuing relationship is rapturously rendered in eye-popping set pieces that are as pretty as they are romantic. And I would have been impressed if De Witís film differed an iota from every other selkie movie Iíve seen. Of course, a baby soon appears ó part human, part amphibian ó and much frolicking occurs, because what else are you going to do when youíre thousands of miles from another human being? Itís here that the film starts to drag considerably, and De Wit seems to know it, as out of the blue he unleashes a deadly tsunami on the island. Itís something to see, though; a perfect marriage of terrific animation and thunderous sound effects.

Youíre suddenly wowed. But it will be the last time, as the story co-written by De Wit and Pascale Ferran slowly peters out into cliches and unearned sentimentality. Some will no doubt be moved. Iím betting most wonít. Still, thereís no denying the artistry is spellbinding. But this is a rare case where the tortoise loses by a hair.

ďThe Red TurtleĒ
An animated film by Michael Dudok De Wit.
(PG for thematic elements and peril.)
Grade: B-