Turning Red (MOVIE REVIEW)
Runtime: 100 Minutes
Director: Domee Shi
Cast: Rosalie Chiang, Sandra Oh, Ava Morse, Hyein Park, Maitreyi Ramakrishnan
Recent years have seen Pixar Animation Studios becoming way more diverse than ever before. Whether it be telling the stories of the Day of the Dead in Coco, discovering the meaning of life from the perspective of African-American culture in Soul, or relishing in the luxuries of the Italian Riviera in Luca, Pixar’s reach for new storytellers portraying their unique experiences on-screen has become more rampant than ever. All of which is what makes their latest movie, Turning Red, an interesting case. The film, coming from Bao filmmaker Domee Shi in her feature directorial debut, is a first for many things in the studio. Not only for it featuring their first solo female director, but for also being their first early-2000s retro piece. Featuring a story of cultural and generational divide from the perspective of a young Chinese immigrant girl living in Canada, Turning Red is a remarkably charming and shockingly funny effort, having plenty of heartfelt moments mixed in with Pixar at their most exaggerated and unhinged; and it’s all the better for it.
In 2002 Toronto, Canada, Meilin Lee is a girl who has a sharply balanced life between living the dream with her besties at school, and living up to the strictly high expectations of her Chinese immigrant family who run an ancient temple in honour of their ancestors. Everything changes when one day, Mei wakes up to discover that she has transformed into a massive Red Panda, which is triggered only when she is experiencing any strong emotions, which is basically all the time for a teenager. Learning from her parents that this transformation is actually intended to be a blessing from their ancestors who had a mystical connection with red pandas, Mei has to learn to deal with this new curse before a ritual is conducted to remove it; yet over time she begins to embrace it and find qualities in releasing her inner animal.
Turning Red, right from the start makes things perfectly clear that this isn’t the traditional Pixar story. While this does have the studio’s typical traditions of having emotional beats and relatable young characters, this is moreso a coming-of-age tale with an anime guise like a Studio Ghibli film. The film wears its inspirations on itself very passionately not only as it introduces Mei, but also in how the film is presented to portray the absolute messiness and cringeworthy sides of adolescence and growing up. The first major aspect to bring up is with the animation especially, because it’s here where Turning Red is at its most distinct. The film has a more simpler style than most Pixar films with more of an emphasis on basic shapes and bean mouths, but what makes it special is how the film exaggerates and amplifies facial expressions and body movements up to eleven on certain occasions to display the cringe and awkwardness that comes from moments of life as a teenager. Whether it’s a parent discovering your embarrassing drawings of a crush, or someone being a bully or just the inner anxieties of a kid becoming a red panda, the film has a hugely anime approach to its visuals not so much in the designs but how it uses its art style to place you in the perspective of its main character. It’s a style that might not work for everyone, but for the most part is a very welcoming creative choice for this story and sets it apart as easily one of the funniest films that Pixar has ever created.
But it’s not just in the animation and comedy department where Turning Red shines because in being a film from an immigrant perspective, the film is able to be quite the thought provoking tale of generational and cultural divide. This film is quite clever in how it creates a conflict between Mei and her mother, Ming. While it’s definitely not the first animated film to portray the rough dynamics between a mother and a daughter (Pixar already explored this with Brave), Turning Red is a much better written portrayal of this on screen. The film explores that weird time in most young people’s lives when they are finding the urge to become independent, and with this being from a Chinese-Canadian perspective where's the additional layer of also adhering to cultural tradition, the film gives plenty of reason to find understanding in Mei’s seeking of independence and Ming’s desire to look out for her child. While for the most part, Mei is in the right for her feelings in this movie, it doesn’t ignore Ming’s plight either and the film is mostly about them coming to find mutual understanding in each other. It’s of course taken to some pretty huge extremes with a giant red panda and plenty of puberty allegories that come along with it, but ultimately even with the female centric narrative and huge emphasis on Chinese culture, there is plenty that everyone will find universally relatable in Turning Red just because it’s messages and familial themes are so human. Not absolutely everything in this film works, mostly because the 2nd act struggles to find a bit of its footing when there’s time to fill up until it reaches its end destination and some of Mei’s friends and her bully, Tyler, could have been explored to a bit of a stronger degree given this is a coming of age tale, but other than that there isn't much to fault here, especially with just how charming and exceptionally funny the film is from start to end.
Turning Red is one of Pixar’s most distinct, diverse and refreshing films in years. Taking Domee Shi’s semi-autobiographical life story and giving it a spunky, young, irreverent twist, the film is a hilarious romp. When it isn’t providing barrels of laughs with how insane it’s animation and writing can be, it’s also just a very sweet story about parental relationships, cultural divide and generational trauma. They are themes that may not exactly be new or especially original but with this having such a unique and retro-2000s tone, there is gonna be at least something for the whole family to enjoy in Turning Red either as a child or parent, and especially mothers and daughters.
FINAL RATING:- 8/10 (GREAT)