Starring: Rosalie Chiang, Sandra Oh, Ava Morse, Hyein Park, Maitreyi Ramakrishnan, Orion Lee, Wai Ching Ho, and Tristan Allerick Chen
Director: Domee Shi
I haven’t decided what I like more about Turning Red: the little hints of horror to reveal Mei’s (Rosalie Chiang) Panda, the late-90s coming-of-age vibe, or Ludwig Goransson’s B2K/N’Sync-tinted score that encapsulates my childhood in one movie. I may not be a 13-year-old girl going through changes in her identity, but the strong themes of self-discovery, friendship, and familial ties are universal to all of us who have had to come into our own. Turning Red continues the Pixar tradition of writers telling their unique stories to create something beautiful and touching.
Turning Red, like Luca before it, is unlikely to land near the top of anyone’s “Best of Pixar” list, but it could prove a nice time for kids and fans of the studio. That said, this Disney+ release doesn’t seem to explore its ambitions as thoroughly as it wants to. There is a fair amount of depth to cover, but the film only seems interested in it about half the time. Regardless, what it chooses to engage with, it addresses in fun ways. It’s also nice to see animation tackle female pre-pubescence specifically in such a carefully-nuanced fashion.
As someone who grew up on Pixar films, it was special seeing my hometown of Toronto represented on screen in this medium for the first time. In a nutshell, that’s what Turning Red is about: representation. Whether it’s looking into Asian culture and its values or giving early teen girls a (mostly) relatable film about the fears of puberty, Turning Red follows the Inside Out-approach of delving into the way we feel. Unfortunately, it lacks the emotional punch of the latter, while sadly spotlighting Disney’s reluctance to showcase LGBT characters. So, a marked improvement, but still room to grow in the representation field.
Be it my complete inability to relate to the central themes, the obnoxiously irritating characters, or the fact that it’s a blatant Teen Wolf ripoff, Turning Red is easily one of Pixar’s “worst” movies. That said, Pixar doesn’t really make “bad” movies, so it’s still fairly decent; However, it very much feels like a straight-to-streaming effort on their part, lacking the emotional weight of some of the studio’s other offerings. It’s possible that women and teen girls (especially those of Chinese descent) will get more out of this film than I did, but it’s getting tossed on the forgettable pile alongside Onward for me.
Although it might not be Pixar’s best, Turning Red is definitely their most mature film. Director/co-writer Domee Shi’s film is painfully awkward and relatable in its depiction of puberty and self-identity, going places I never expected to see in a Pixar movie. The animation is extremely unique and a ton of fun too. It’s genuinely very funny but, in traditional Pixar fashion, the emotions run high in the third act. It didn’t make me cry, but I was close. Another stellar Pixar outing.