Despite toying with the opportunity to deliver an obvious message about the environment, 'A Turtle's Tale: Sammy's Adventures' never fully commits to doing that. In some respects, it's something worth admiring, since most of us don't watch movies to see a heavy-handed lecture about humanity being the ruin of the planet. (Unless it's a documentary with narration by an A-list celebrity, then it's okay.) That's not to say the CG animated film doesn't communicate a well-intended moral that is as green as they come. Rather, it does so indirectly and cleverly, allowing for more focus on the charming story of a sea turtle's life.
Written by Domonic Paris, the plot follows the unsuspecting Sammy (Yuri Lowenthal) on his journey, from hatchling to finding a mate. In these opening moments, as the newborn turtle tries desperately to make his way to the ocean, we're quickly alerted to the lack of people occupying the beaches. Though the characters have a very simplistic, far-too cutesy and friendly style, the animation is quite astounding and beautifully detailed. The filmmakers have put a great deal of care and effort into bringing this story to the big screen. Being a film about marine-life, the best visual moments come from the coral reefs and in one scene with a pirate ship towards the end.
Before diving into the ocean depths, Sammy first makes a lifetime friendship with Ray (Anthony Anderson), another aquatic reptile swimming the seas alone. Their first encounter with the humans is a tragic and sadly all-too-familiar scene requiring a major cleanup. It's soon followed by more encounters, some embarrassingly terrible, while others are pleasantly friendly, as with the hippie Snow (Melanie Griffith). Her cat, Fluffy (Tim Curry), is a different matter. Little Sammy also receives a helping hand from the more-experienced Vera (Kathy Griffin) as he searches for Shelly (Jenny McCarthy), the turtle he believes is the one for him.
Without being pushy or completely transparent, a theme begins to emerge through Sammy's travels as certain events of humanity's influence upon the planet seem to just occur in the background. It's all done with decent subtlety, showing Sammy's goal is simple survival while desiring to explore the world. But all that is frequently disrupted by how we force our presence in every corner of the planet, whether they're hippies on rescue missions or a discarded refrigerator floating with the current to Antarctica. This makes the story fairly similar to the one seen on the wonderful documentary from Hannover House, 'Turtle: The Incredible Journey,' but here, of course, 'Sammy's Adventures' captures the imagination of younger viewers and expresses the same ideas in a way they can admire.
Paris also penned 'Fly Me to the Moon' for the same production duo responsible for 'Turtle's Tale' — nWave Pictures and Illuminata Pictures. The film's director, Ben Stassen, who also co-wrote the story and is the founder of nWave, has made a career of producing and directing 3D IMAX movies and some of the best CGI ride films. He brings much of that same energy and thrilling excitement to this family comedy, moving the camera and the framing to create the feel of swimming with fish and other turtles. Stassen clearly intended the movie to be seen in 3D since so much of this bobbing-and-weaving has various objects and animals flying at the screen. But even in 2D, the story remains a sweet tale of the aquatic life of sea turtles that children and parents can enjoy together.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Optimum Releasing and Studio Canal bring 'A Turtle's Tale: Sammy's Adventures' to 3D Blu-ray as a two-disc combo pack. The Region B locked BD50 disc contains a 2D version of the film and is accompanied by a second DVD-5 disc that includes an anaglyph version of the movie and comes with a pair of blue-red cardboard glasses. They're housed inside a slightly thicker than normal keepcase on opposing panels. At startup, both discs commence with a couple of trailers in 2D, and then switches to the standard menu selection, also in 2D. Viewers can choose between 2D and 3D when highlighting "Play Feature" and pressing enter.
Sammy ventures unto 3D Blu-ray with a phenomenal 1080p/MVC MPEG-4 encode (1.77:1) that ranks as one of the very best in the format. Seeing as how this comes from an experienced team of 3D animation filmmakers, the quality of this presentation is practically none too surprising. Director Ben Stassen knows how to frame the picture and move the camera so as to make the best possible use of the technology. A variety of sea creatures and other objects constantly extend beyond the screen and into your living room, like the head of a snake or when Sammy and Ray play with a crab and nudge it towards your face. The two friends also swim into a school of seahorses which stick out very amusingly, and the beaks of seagulls and penguins protrude outwards as if to strike at your eyes.
Stassen also mixes this wonderful variety of gimmick pop-effects with a great deal of depth that's consistent and feels amazingly natural. Whether we're on sandy beaches or under the vast emptiness of the ocean, the image extends far back into the display and generates an astonishing sense of three-dimensional space. The turtles, along with their scaly neighbors, appear to float freely in the middle of the screen and clearly separating the background from the foreground. Given Stassen's experience with CG thrill-ride films in 3D, he demonstrates the technology's ability to completely immerse viewers with several scenes of the turtles swimming about the coral reefs or when Sammy moves through the many rooms of a sunken pirate ship. Early moments on the wooden raft have camera angles that show terrific depth and distance. At one point, the screen is broken in half horizontally with the lower part underwater and the upper above, creating the marvelous illusion of looking at a real fish tank.
During all this, the transfer remains razor-sharp with so much for the eyes to feast on. From individual pebbles of sandy beaches to the interior of a hundreds-old sunken ship, the picture is superbly detailed and lovely. Like its 2D counterpart, contrast is pitch-perfect and black levels are inky rich, providing the image with remarkable clarity throughout and adding to the animation's dimensionality. Colors are also lush and vivid, particularly in the primaries, while secondary hues are full-bodied, giving the video a great deal of warmth and energy. Some of the banding is still visible during the fade-ins and fade-outs, but thanks to the darken glasses, it's not as distracting and could be ignored by most viewers. All things considered, this is an extraordinary 3D presentation which terrifically demonstrates the capabilities and possibilities of this still growing format.
Compared to its 2D counterpart in the U.S., this DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack is pretty much its equal, as would be expected. Rear activity is generally reserved for Ramin Djawadi's musical score and the several song selections, extending the soundfield satisfyingly. Ambient effects are also employed on occasion, but it's not very rewarding or consistent. The lossless mix offers a much better presentation in the front soundstage with excellent channel separation and convincing off-screen directionality. Vocals are well-prioritized and intelligible in the center of the screen. Dynamic range comes with broad acoustical detail and wonderful fidelity while a healthy low-end provides a good presence to the music and is appropriately effective during the few times of action.
'Sammy's Adventures' takes him to Blu-ray as a bare-bones release.
'A Turtle's Tale: Sammy's Adventures' is a sweet and charming tale about the life of a Green sea turtle, indirectly relating a message of global conservationism and environmentalism. From Ben Stassen, the filmmaker behind many 3D IMAX and CGI ride films, the movie has an amusing and energetic style which intelligently captures the imagination of children and keeps adults entertained. The 3D video adds a wonderful experience to the film, and the presentation is one of the best available on the format, accompanied by excellent lossless audio. Unfortunately, this Blu-ray edition is a barebones release aside from a DVD copy of the movie, making it worth the price only for those craving for more 3D material who also have the ability to play Region B discs.
Portions of this review also appear in our coverage of Dunkirk on Blu-ray. This post features unique Vital Disc Stats, Video, and Final Thoughts sections.