This review is spoiler-free.
Turning Red centers around the dorky Meilin “Mei” Lee, a confident 13-year-old Chinese-Canadian who is torn between staying her mother’s dutiful daughter and the chaos of adolescence. However, one morning, after she has a nightmare, she is horrified to discover that she has turned into a giant red panda, later learning that her ancestors have a shared history with the species!
I’ll be honest, I was pretty surprised to learn that Turning Red would be heading straight to Disney Plus and not showing across more theatres, but on the plus side, it did mean that I would be checking the movie out much sooner than I would have!
So, let’s take a look at Pixar’s latest offering, shall we?
When it comes to the story, this is very much a tale that explores the dynamic change between mother and daughter and what can happen as a child enters adolescence and the transformations, in many different ways, that occur. While at first glance you may feel like you’ve seen this type of Pixar movie before, what you might not be expecting is the honest and open discussion this film undertakes when it comes to some of the key themes within it, especially that of teenage girls going through puberty – which is essentially what the metaphor about turning into a giant red panda is all about!
The subject of puberty, especially in a traditional environment, is told in a very mature and honest way, and I think this was such a brave and bold decision to allow this subject to be, rightfully, normalised and not something that should be a sense of shame or hidden away.
Now, I’m basing this on what I’ve been told or heard from my female friends and family, so I am taking a leap and using my male privilege in assuming that this is what it is like, and while I can empathise and understand to a degree, I think some of these issues will connect more to those who have experienced this or currently going through it. Again, I think this is a brave subject to approach and one that could genuinely help people break any potential stigma or taboo.
Of course, this is Pixar, so away from some of the main story themes, there is plenty of great animation, funny jokes, and heart-warming moments! The film also does not shy away from getting a little dark and psychedelic when it needs to and I found myself really enjoying these unique moments as they happened – you’ll know them when they happen, trust me! Ludwig Goransson provides the themes for the movie so, as you’d expect, it is outstanding!
I really enjoyed Domee Shi’s Pixar short Bao, so it came as no real surprise to me that I found myself enjoying what she did here with Turning Red, her feature film directorial debut! This feels like a very honest and personal movie, something Pixar is doing more and more – letting the creators tell personal and differing stories that hope to reach and connect with both targeted and wider audiences alike!
As for the cast, Rosalie Chiang (Meilin) leads the film and delivers a solid performance from start to finish and you just buy into all the events that are happening to her and you feel like you are going on this journey with her. You also have Sandra Oh (Ming) as Meilin’s strict and overprotective mother, who Oh portrays perfectly – a real highlight of the movie with her performance be it the drama or comedy elements, it was an all-around performance! Hyein Park (Abby) is also hilarious as one of Meilin’s friends – she will be a huge fan favourite character for certain! There was also a small role for the hugely talented James Hong (Mr Gao), so he also gets a special mention as he is such a wonderful character actor who always leaves a lasting impression regardless of how major or minor the role is.
Turning Red is a very personal, moving, and bold tale that isn’t afraid to take risks and promotes a very honest and open discussion about a teenage girl’s journey through adolescence and exploring the ever-fluctuating relationships and identities that occur during this time. With the film’s unique visual style and high-end animation, Turning Red is one of Pixar’s best offerings over the past decade and definitely deserving of your time.