TURNING RED is directed by Domee Shi. The film features the voice talents of Rosalie Chiang, Sandra Oh, Ava Morse, Maitreyi Ramakrishnan, Hyein Park, Orion Lee, Wai Ching Ho and James Hong.
Mei is a 13-year-old girl of Chinese descent living in Canada with her family at a temple. She’s an overly energetic girl who never lets up, striving to balance a relationship with her friends as well as to please her overly strict and traditional mother. But Mei quickly finds herself faced with a problem. There’s a family curse, which transforms her into a red panda when she becomes overly excitable. And for Mei, that’s almost always! Is there a way to break the family curse? How will Mei deal with this strange new happening, and how will it impact her social life and future?
TURNING RED is the latest in a series of Pixar films that was released direct to Disney+ rather than in theaters (despite the intention to do so) due to the current pandemic in the world; it’ll hit the streaming service on March 11. Pixar tackles a coming-of-age story here, showing beautifully how they’re the master filmmakers who can create animated tales for young and old alike. Younger audiences will love the bright animation and visuals, while older audiences will be surprised by how Pixar handles the subjects at hand here. It’s a surprisingly strong story, even if it does suffer from an overused character stereotype and some plot threads that get discarded and forgotten.
The absolute best thing about TURNING RED is Mei. I fell in love with this character from the first moment she was on screen. Adorable, energetic, and cute to the point that it’s obnoxious, she’s one of the more entertaining Pixar protagonists of recent years. Seeing how she deals with her family’s curse and the impact it has on her social life is hilarious yet touching in its own way, not to mention seeing how she has to shift from being an overly excitable girl to a more calm one for fear of unleashing the curse in a compromising situation. The reactions of others to this in in the film are equally entertaining. Despite the hilarity, it still manages to be a touching coming-of-age story. The diverse supporting cast isn’t half bad either, including the likes of the always-entertaining James Hong (he’s 93 and still working!) and Sandra Oh.
It's also some of the best world building Pixar has done in recent years as well. Set in a Chinese-centric locale in Canada, it’s got an interesting atmosphere and look all its own. The people in this town are all believable, and the mythology of the movie is certainly entertaining, yet feels like it could be rooted in true ethnic myths. The screenwriters also set the film in 2002 rather than the present day, so you won’t see people glued to their smart phones, but you’ll see things like virtual pets and boy bands, both of which were big around this time. You’ll definitely want more of the world Pixar has built for viewers like you here, and is there any greater praise than that?
Another impressive aspect of TURNING RED is how it tackles coming-of-age subjects that you’d likely never expect to see touched upon in a PG-rated family film, yet Pixar manages to masterfully find that balance, creating a mature and relatable film while still keeping things appropriate for kids; I have a feeling a good deal of what’s to be had here will go over the heads of little ones anyhow.
While the film is mostly impressive, it does have a few aspects that don’t quite work. The biggest issue is the character of Mei’s mother. She’s the most stereotypical overprotective parent there is. This is one of the most overused stereotypes in cinema, and it’s not even the first time Pixar has done this. Could we have given her any other kind of personality, seriously? Similarly, there are many other plot threads that are only hinted at, but quickly go forgotten. The biggest offender of this is how Mei’s mother deals with a convenience store employee Mei pines for, but again, it’s a plot thread that’s basically forgotten after this. While the script has some issues, I still won’t deny that the good outweighs the bad.
Pixar has done it again with TURNING RED, giving audiences another powerful coming-of-age story entertaining and colorful enough for children, but with some surprisingly mature story elements that’ll keep the adults interested. It could very well end up being the best family film of 2022. Highly recommended!