Directed by Domee Shi (Bao) – Screenplay by Julia Cho & Domee Shi.
Turning Red, the 25th feature-length film from Pixar Animation Studios, takes place in Toronto, Canada in 2002 and follows a 13-year-old Chinese-Canadian girl named Meilin Lee (voiced by Rosalie Chiang), who thinks of herself as a grown-up and who dedicates a lot of her time to honoring her parents. However, things are about to change for Meilin. She both wants to take care of her family’s Chinese temple and go to a boy band concert with her supportive best friends, even though her mother doesn’t trust her friends and despises the boy band. Over night, something changes for Meilin, and when she wakes up she has turned into a huge red panda. She finds out that she can turn back into her normal self, but every time she has a strong feeling she goes right back to being this mythological panda, which obviously freaks her out.
An animated coming-of-age film about puberty, the central transformation in Turning Red is to a certain extent a metaphor for menstruation, but it is also very clear that it is about the way a young teenager can become red in the face due to embarrassment when a parent interferes in their life. Thematically, this is a film about a young woman growing up and trying to balance honoring her parents and honoring herself, and therefore it feels like a pretty good companion piece to Michael Rianda’s The Mitchells vs. The Machines from last year.
I also think this is yet another Pixar film that both adults and young people can enjoy. The animation is predictably excellent, as it can look very realistic even though the characters have these cartoonish round-ish faces. I also really loved the way the animation would go out of its way to express its main character’s emotions in a stylized, cartoonish, or even manga-like way. Obviously, these films are mostly focused on young adults or children, but I think the relatable narrative and the period it takes place in is going to appeal to an older audience. I thought it was fun to see an animated period piece take place in the early 2000s, and it made me very nostalgic to see a Tamagotchi and flip phones.
One of the film’s secret weapons is the music. In the film, the very fun central friend group obsesses over the boy band known as 4*Town, and I think it’s just a super smart way to have this film appeal to multiple generations. Obsessing over a boy band should be relatable to so many people. 4*Town may make adults think of NSync, Backstreet Boys, Blue, or the like, whereas a younger audience may instantly think of One Direction or BTS. It also helps that the fictional band’s songs are quite catchy, and they have even been written by the incredibly popular sibling songwriting duo of Billie Eilish and Finneas O’Connell.
Are there things I think don’t really work as well as intended in Turning Red? Sure, but its relatively short runtime makes it easier to accept them. I would say that there are some familiar things about it, and, yes, some things about it are a little bit predictable. But, really, the one thing that didn’t really work for me was that the third act includes a ‘fight’ that I thought was a little bit unnecessary. However, I will say that I liked what that fight led to in the film.
However, ultimately, I thought that Domee Shi’s Turning Red was just delightful from minute one. I don’t think it is one of the very best Pixar films, but I think it is undeniably charming, very relatable, and I loved the way it was animated. The whole ‘be yourself’ theme isn’t anything new (to a certain extent, even last year’s Luca, another Pixar film, said the same thing), but I really liked the focus on Meilin and her mother’s relationship. This is yet another strong and recommendable entry into Pixar’s filmography.
8 out of 10
– Review Written by Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen.