March 11th, 2022
MOVIE: TURNING RED
STARRING: ROSALIE CHIANG, SANDRA OH, AVA MORSE, JAMES HONG
DIRECTED BY: DOMEE SHI
AMovieGuy.com’s RATING: 3 ½ STARS (Out of 4)
We have been in a wild era of Pixar movies because Turning Red is the fourth movie in a row that is both original and not released in a theater. It feels wrong to see the production company of Toy Story and Monsters Inc. finally working with original ideas again and only for those movies to be subjected to the comfort of your couch. That’s not the worst thing, but it’s not the right way to see the bright animation, which of course isn’t the way it was intended. Yet, here we are with Turning Red, one of the more unique of the Pixar movies, finally engaging with the lives and emotions of prepubescent girls, and growing into a delightful journey for everyone to watch. It’s about our bodies changing, friendships, the relationships between children and their parents, and a girl who finds out one day she can turn into a giant red panda. Turning Red is one big fluffy delight.
It’s all about a pre-teen girl named Meilin Lee (Rosalie Chiang), she lives in Toronto, Canada, an excellent student, loves helping her mom Ming (Sandra Oh) at the family Asian Culture center, and is unapologetically herself. She also loves her three friends Miriam (Ava Morse), Priya (Maitreyi Ramakrishnan), and Abby (Hyein Park). They’re the best of pals, always supporting one another, a bit boy crazy, never afraid to dance to cheer each other up, and they all love the boy-band 4-Town. Sometimes, Meilin can be embarrassed by her mother’s over-”bearing” style of parenting, and one day when her mom discovers a love struck drawing that Mei made of a boy she found cute at the local convenience store, things become worse when mom makes a scene in front of jerky classmate Devon (Addison Chandler). The next morning Mei wakes up in sheer terror to face a day at school. She also discovers that she’s more than red all over- she’s a massive ball of fluff in the form of a red panda. Now she needs to figure out exactly how this has happened to her and can she change back before it becomes permanent?
The second and third act is where Turning Red has a big jolt of fun, with Mei and friends turning her newfound panda look into a way to make money, all with the hopes of making enough to buy tickets to the 4-Town concert. The plot in some ways feels similar to a 90’s sitcom, mixed with The NeverEnding Story, and a Miyazaki film. I say that as a good thing, where director/writer Domee Shi and writer Julia Cho, let the adorableness of the panda be the dressing, and the meat of the plot is the relatable struggles of a kid. That’s what also makes Turning Red a perfect companion piece with Luca, where the narratives show children finding their place in the world, on their own. Both films have their version of overprotective parents, an only child making their own personal growth, and their journey becoming a beautiful interpretation of growing up. By the end, Turning Red is funny, messy, and a perfect expression of the pre-teen experience.
What is interesting and what slightly turned me off about Turning Red is the animation, which looks in a higher definition state, where the textures are alive. It’s because of this animation that audiences might be surprised they are watching a Pixar movie. The look and feel of Turning Red proves that things have changed to new levels since Toy Story. Food looks photorealistic. Eyes blink and hair waves. One begins to wonder if the next Pixar installment would just be animated motion capture instead of hand drawn in the true animated sense.
New animation style or not, it feels like Pixar has their finger on the pulse of growing up more than ever, and Turning Red is special. The writing and direction from Domee Shi feels genuine, telling a story of family history, a mother-daughter relationship that Pixar hasn’t tapped into since Brave, and capturing the importance of friendship. Where I thought Luca was “minor Pixar” and then regretted it more with every re-watch, I’m not making that mistake with Turning Red. Anything other than praise would just be embarrassing.
TURNING RED PREMIERES FRIDAY MARCH 11TH, 2022 ON DISNEY+
3 ½ STARS
Written by: Leo Brady