Growing up is a beast.
Turning Red is a 2022 animated coming-of-age fantasy comedy film directed by Domee Shi, written by Julia Cho and Domee Shi, produced by Walt Disney Pictures and Pixar Animation Studios, and distributed by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures. The film stars Rosalie Chang and Sandra Oh.
"We've all got an inner beast." -Meilin Lee
Meilin Lee is a typical teenage girl: she loves hanging out with her friends, singing karaoke, and listening to boy bands. However, when an ancient curse from the earliest days of her family suddenly befalls her, she must deal with all of the teenage struggle as well as dealing with turning into a big red panda when she gets too excited.
Animation / Entertainment Value / Asian Culture / World-Building / Payoff / The Panda Metaphor (Minor spoilers!) / Finale / Abortion Line? / Unlikable Characters / Niche
My Expectations Going In
I'm always excited for new Pixar projects, so I was naturally looking forward to Turning Red. The first trailers didn't blow me away, but it's still Pixar, and they have one of the most consistent track records. Then the reviews came out. Most of them were positive, but the negative ones were louder. They called it Pixar's weirdest and most niche film to date, so it took me aback a little. It didn't necessarily shift my expectations, but it did make me interested, so I've been waiting to see what this movie would be like.
And I definitely have some thoughts on it.
Turning Red is definitely Pixar's strangest film. Yes, Ratatouille and Up are weird ideas for movies. But Turning Red doesn't even really feel like a Pixar film. Which is a good thing...and a bad thing.
The animation here was actually pretty great. With both this and Luca, Pixar is trying a somewhat new animation style. It looks like Lightyear will return to a more classic animation style, but Turning Red visualizes its atmosphere and characters with a gorgeous new shape and style that I really, really loved.
It's also a fun movie. At face value, the situation is a funny one. Mei Lee turning into a giant red panda is an entertaining situation, and there are some scenes that are pretty funny. There's an interrogation-like scene that I really, really enjoyed. It's not the funniest Pixar film, not even close, but it has a high entertainment value and does have some moments that will make you giggle.
And the representation of Asian culture in here is fabulous. The story swiftly integrates a teenage coming-of-age story with this rich Chinese culture. There are temples and prayers are beliefs that our characters have in this film that I really loved. They even use some Chinese artwork to give us flashbacks and explain some backstory in the movie. It felt comforting and natural to be thrown into this whole new world that Turning Red creates. That was probably my favorite aspect of the movie.
I also like the world-building they have. We understand this panda curse and how it affects Mei Lee's life because the script does a great job of building out a good mythos and quirky world. There are different social classes at Mei Lee's school. Characters react in different ways to the panda, and we understand why, because their characters were set up in a certain way that makes us get how they feel about the panda. I really liked that aspect.
I think the payoff of storylines and character arcs are done relatively well in this film. There are a lot of things about the characters, story, and finale that I don't like, but there are moments where they call back to things set up throughout the movie that worked for me. In a pretty crazy finale, they actually had moments of satisfying payoff, which I appreciated.
The Sour (Minor Spoilers)
I'm very conflicted on this movie.
First off, I am a 15-year-old guy. I cannot relate to middle school girls who are going through puberty and are in love with boy bands. So that's my perspective. But I don't think that they did a great job of tackling the subject matter.
This is where the minor spoilers are, so if you don't want to know anything, don't read this part. Skip to where it says spoilers are over.
The panda is a metaphor for periods and puberty, which I just think is a bit of an awkward direction to take a kids' movie. Pixar is probably the studio that appeals to the biggest audience. Four year olds can enjoy a Pixar movie as much as eighty year olds. I mean, Toy Story, Incredibles, Nemo, Monsters Inc., Coco...these are all family movies. I don't think Turning Red is a family movie. As a high school guy, the subject matter of periods and puberty was alienating.
And it's not like they really made it subtle. There are pads actually on screen. They really put the awkwardness of being a teenage girl front and center, but that makes for a very strange experience. They talk about sexy boys and how hot their pecs and calves are. There's a scene where Mei Lee twerks. Which just isn't something I expect from a Pixar movie. It was a bit shocking, and I think it may turn some people off.
Spoilers are over.
The finale of this film is also weird. Most of the movie is small scale and contained within this one family. The finale basically turns into Godzilla. And that's not an exaggeration. I don't know why they chose to go that direction, but it did not work for me. It did not fit the movie I was watching, so I wasn't really a fan of that.
They also have a very quick line that was very awkward. Mei Lee says to her mom "My panda, my choice", which is a clear reference to "My body, my choice". Abortion is a highly controversial topic in America, and if you are going to reference it in this movie, they should at least have something to say. But nope. They just throw it in the script like it's a wink at the audience, when, really, it's a very touchy subject. However you feel about that topic is up to you, but I think it's incredibly weird that they included that line in a Pixar movie without having any commentary on it.
I didn't really find the characters likable in this movie, either. Mei Lee's mom is made to be slightly unlikable, but I find Mei Lee herself to be unlikable. The main conflict of the movie involves Mei Lee choosing friends or family, which is a terrible conflict, because you don't want her to have to choose either. She should be able to have both, but because the movie decided to make that the conflict, she doesn't have that. And because that's the conflict, she's constantly making decisions that hurt either her friends or family...which therefore makes her unlikable.
Like I said before, Turning Red doesn't feel like a Pixar movie. Pixar is broad appeal. This film is niche. I can guarantee that women will like it more than men. More girls will be able to relate to this than guys. So take my opinion with a grain of salt. I am a guy. I don't swoon over boy bands and go through the stages of puberty that girls go through. If you are a girl, you will be able to relate to this much more. But, once again, Pixar is broad appeal, and this movie feels very niche for Pixar.
Should you see Turning Red?
I think yes. This is a good movie. It's not one of Pixar's best. But, especially if you are a woman, watch this movie. It has something to say, and, while I didn't personally relate to it, I do think others will. Even if you don't relate to the message, this is a fun movie that has elements of the greatness of Pixar.
Turning Red is niche and weird and has a strange metaphor that I'm not sure fits with the Pixar formula...but I'm a high school guy. I am naturally alienated by a movie about a middle school girl going through puberty. And, even though that's the message of the movie, it's still a fun, beautifully animated ride throughout.
I will go Savory here. Age range is 8+.
SWEET N' SOUR SCALE
Sweet (Great) Savory (Good) Sour (Bad)
Fun Factor: 8/10
Directed by Domee Shi
Rated PG for suggestive sexual content, thematic elements
1 hour and 40 minutes
Released on March 11, 2022
Rosalie Chang as Meilin Lee
Sandra Oh as Ming Lee
Ava Morse as Miriam
Hyein Park as Abby
Maitreyi Ramakrishnan as Priya
Orion Lee as Jin Lee
Wai Ching Ho as Wu Lee
Tristan Allerick Chen as Tyler
James Hong as Mr. Gao