Why Isn’t The Red Turtle Part of the Studio Ghibli Collection?

Between 2014's When Marnie Was There and 2020's Earwig and the Witch, Studio Ghibli didn't make a single animated film, but the studio wasn't completely inactive during that time. It worked on museum exhibits, art books, short films, documentaries, and, most interestingly of all, co-produced the Oscar-nominated 2016 animated film The Red Turtle.

This co-production was the final film Isao Takahata worked on before his passing in 2018, but it's generally not considered a "Studio Ghibli film." It isn't part of the Ghibli collection on either Netflix or HBO Max. Why is this?

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The Red Turtle is a Studio Ghibli Co-Production

The Red Turtle is a co-production between Studio Ghibli and Wild Bunch AG, a German film production company responsible for Ghibli's distribution in France. Prima Linea Productions in France was responsible for the animation. The film is directed and co-written by Michaël Dudok de Wit, a Dutch animator previously best known for the Academy Award-winning short film Father and Daughter. He's also worked on a segment of Heavy Metal, storyboarded for Beauty and the Beast and illustrated seven books.

The entire reason The Red Turtle exists is that Miyazaki was impressed by de Wit's work.  The head of Wild Bunch, Vincent Maravel, met with Hayao Miyazaki, who had been so moved by "Father and Daughter" that he sought out de Wit to collaborate with him. In an interview leading up to its release, Maravel explained further:

"Around the time of Ponyo I visited Studio Ghibli. Miyazaki showed me Father and Daughter and said 'I want you to find the director for me'. I said that would be complicated. He replied, 'If one day Studio Ghibli decides to produce an animator from outside the studio, it will be him'.

On my return, the head of acquisitions tracked down Dudok de Wit and we visited him in London to ask if he would be interested in doing a feature. He said he wasn’t but we added: 'Too bad, Studio Ghibli wants to produce it', and his eyes lit-up."

The Red Turtle is Not the Only Studio Ghibli Co-Production

The Red Turtle was not the first time Ghibli collaborated with other studios before. Among other collaborations, Studio Ghibli co-produced and animated Episode 11 of Neon Genesis Evangelion, co-produced Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence and served on the production committee for Sailor Moon SuperS: The Movie and Dragon Ball: The Path to Power. Ghibli co-founder Toshio Suzuki was even a producer on the American cartoon Recess: School's Out.

None of the movies or series mentioned in the previous paragraph are considered official Studio Ghibli productions because other studios ultimately had more control over the works in question. The Red Turtle enjoyed more support from Studio Ghibli and Isao Takahata in particular than these other co-productions; unlike others, the Ghibli logo does appear in the opening credits. However, it's still not considered part of the Studio Ghibli canon because of its co-production status.

That said, The Red Turtle is a masterful work of animation well worth watching. Michaël Dudok de Wit deserves all the praise he's received and more for crafting a beautiful film devoid of dialogue that showcases survival, finding meaning in life and the tragedy of humanity's mortality. The Red Turtle might not be a Ghibli film, but it's a beautiful film that Ghibli fans should embrace.

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