Julia Cho, Domee Shi
Rosalie Chiang, Sandra Oh, Ava Morse
Animation, Adventure, Comedy
Rated: PG for thematic material, suggestive content and language
All media used courtesy of Disney/Pixar
Meilin Lee is a 13-year-old girl from Canada, living the life with her supportive friends and saddled with the weight of perfection from her mother. After Meilin becomes more emotional as she ages, an ancient family secret reveals itself in her transformation into a giant red panda. Now Meilin will have to learn about growing up with new emotions, and new body, and maybe a new mindset of what it means to grow up.
The film is directed by Domee Shi (who directed the Pixar short film Bao), and you can see that animation style and heart throughout this story. The animation actually has more elements of anime than I’ve personally seen in any Pixar film. The action beats are dialed up to a Dragon Ball Z level of over-the-top that was both hilarious and visually engaging. The moments where Meilin is struggling with how to interact and basically live life with this new transformation are clearly allegories of puberty that is a more personal and mature exploration of a young character that we’ve not seen in animated form before. Yes, Turning Red is skewed towards a younger fanbase but isn’t unapproachable to someone who enjoys Pixar films regardless of age.
There is a stellar voice cast here with Sandra Oh playing Meilin’s mother, James Hong and more that do bring gravitas and humor to their characters. The themes about family and expectations can feel somewhat familiar to those who’ve seen Disney’s Encanto, even Mulan. Weirdly enough Turning Red feels like it’s the most grounded of the three that is able to really explore the feelings of becoming more mature, and that growing up physically doesn’t mean you need to fundamentally change who you are.
Overall, Turning Red is an entertaining and charming look at growing up. The animation is top notch, and Pixar again delivers with humor and an emotional core. The story takes you to an environment and life that may seem unfamiliar but in its roots are easily relatable. Hoping a Disney+ release can also have some king of theatrical run, as it deserves a chance to be seen on the big screen. I think Turning Red will inspire many young girls who may also be struggling to not feel like they aren’t seen.