Going up against the likes of “Zootopia” and “Kubo and the Two Strings” in this year’s Oscar contest for Animated Feature Film, “The Red Turtle” is a dark horse. But don’t let that keep you from seeing this lovely little mostly hand-drawn fable on a big screen. And don’t, if you happen to be averse to the look of Japanese anime (as I am), be concerned that the film was produced by Studio Ghibli, the folks who made “Howl’s Moving Castle” and “Spirited Away” and the like. “The Red Turtle” was green lit by Ghibli, but was directed, with complete freedom, by Dutch filmmaker Michael Dudok de Wit, who won an Oscar for the animated short “Father and Daughter” in 2000. It does not physically resemble any anime film.

The triumph of “The Red Turtle” lies in its simplicity. The drawings seem as if they were done with pencils, though some were actually created on tablets. And the story can be summed up in a single sentence: A lone castaway finds happiness and contentment on a small island.

That sounds like a bit of a challenge if you want to hold an audience’s attention for the length of a relatively short (81 minutes) feature film. On top of that there’s no dialogue. But the film is captivating from the opening moments, which show — as, coincidentally, does the opening sequence in “Kubo” — a terrible storm at sea. But in this one, there’s just one person, a young man, struggling in the huge waves and maybe, just maybe, assisted by someone or something in the water with him, then landing safely onshore.

The unnamed man, whose back story is never told, finds food and water, and the island is safe enough for him to sleep out in the open. But with only birds and turtles and comically scuttling crabs for company, loneliness and desperation set in quickly. He is determined to escape, soon fashions a raft out of logs and branches, and sets out to sea, only to be bashed from underneath by some unseen creature, and sent swimming back to shore. Another, this time larger, raft is built, sets off, and is bashed. An even larger one meets the same fate, with him frustratingly making his way, completely exhausted, back to the beach.

The mystery is cleared up when, on yet another attempt, he sees the cause of his woes, a large red sea turtle (one of the very few computer-animated pieces of the film) accompanying him on his intended voyage, but making sure he doesn’t get far.

It’s at this point that the film introduces a fantasy element. The man’s exasperation leads to rage which erupts in an act that, even without any dialogue, is clear that he regrets. And then the magic begins. The red turtle is not what it seems. Hold on, the red turtle might not be what it seems. Because there are such inventive and interesting and surprising story turns in the script, I’m not going to give them away here.

Suffice it to say, the man, despite his rueful actions, soon finds himself with company, and not of the reptilian sort. His (their) lonely island refuge becomes a paradise. Before long, there is what can only be described as a family, an extremely close-knit one.

But lest this sound like a story that’s too simple to keep your attention, there are also bouts of peril — the scariest of which is a devastating tsunami — some sadness, some laughter (oh, those crabs), and a constant sense of wonder, some of it due to what’s being played out on the screen, some of it from the exquisite and mood-altering score by Laurent Perez Del Mar. In the end, this is a warm and gently trippy dream of a movie, perfect viewing for all ages.

— Ed Symkus writes about movies for More Content Now.

“The Red Turtle”
Written by Pascale Ferran and Michael Dudok de Wit; directed by Michael Dudok de Wit
Rated PG