Turning Red is the newest Pixar release now available to stream on Disney+. Moving away from their customary adventure, buddy style movie format, Turning Red is decisively a coming-of-age story, and one that Pixar has turned into a heart-warming, fun and adorably cute tale.
The film follows Meilin Lee (Rosalie Chiang), a thirteen-year-old academic overachiever, who is unapologetically self-assured, confident and incredibly dorky. She aces every school test, plays the flute, dotes over her Tamagotchi and fangirls over boyband 4*Town with her 3 best friends. Despite Mei’s confidence, she hides her interests from her overbearing and overprotective mother Ming (Sandra Oh) and does everything her mother ever asks of her, including helping to run their family temple in Toronto.
One night after her mother embarrasses her in front of her school crush, Mei has a nightmare and wakes up the following morning to find she has turned into a giant red panda. After hiding from her parents, Mei discovers that she only turns into the panda when she feels excitement or heightened emotions and heads to school all the while trying to contain the panda. However, after her mother embarrasses her yet again at school, Mei turns into the panda and flees through the city, causing destruction as she makes her way home.
On reaching home, Ming and Mei’s father Jin (Orion Lee) explain to Mei that their ancestor had the ability to turn into a giant red panda and since that day, all female members of the family have inherited this ability. And much to Mei’s relief there is a cure, but she will have to wait a full month until the next red moon to rid herself of the panda. In the meantime, Mei must come to terms with her inner panda and how it can change her life forever.
Directed by Domee Shi, who was behind Oscar-winning Pixar short Bao, Turning Red is undoubtedly a very heart-warming film. Focusing entirely on the coming-of-age of thirteen-year-old Mei, it’s a brave, but very welcome move and having an adorable cute giant panda certainly helps. Similar to Inside Out, this is very much a story about Mei’s feelings and emotions but with a slightly fantastical side in the form of the panda transformation. The overbearing mother and child rebelling against her family and culture is certainly a plot we’ve seen countless times before, but Pixar does manage to breathe a fair amount of new life into it – especially as it doesn’t go down completely predictable routes with how Mei deals with her transformation.
It does drag a little in the middle and felt like it was about to end half an hour before it actually did, but for the most part, this is a very fun and enjoyable film. Visually, as expected, it looks stunning and seamlessly incorporates styles like anime and even emojis, resulting in a very colourful and vibrant looking film. The original songs, written by Billie Eilish and Finneas O’Connell for the boyband 4*Town, are a standout, and are so good they sound like they’re straight out of a 2000s boyband album. The whole 4*Town part of the plot was a highlight as it brought back some very nostalgic, happy memories from my childhood.
This had a lot of heart, but I did feel like it was lacking some of the humour you’d come to expect from a Pixar film. There were a few laughs, but for me, they were few and far between, although a notable comic standout was Mei’s friend Abby (Hyein Park), who was an absolute hoot. The fact this has decided to tackle puberty in a very abrupt and unapologetic manner is refreshing and it’s nice to see them focus on something more realistic, but I was grateful for the mythical panda all the same – without this, it would’ve been very dull.
Turning Red is a stunning looking film with a large amount of heart, and the coming-of-age storyline works very well. It’s perhaps lacking in some of the humour you’d expect and drags in the middle act, but for the most part, it’s a very cute and enjoyable story with a cracking soundtrack.
A contract manager moonlighting as a rather discerning film and book critic, with an almost fangirl appreciation for anything made by Christopher Nolan. When I’m not catching up on my latest read or watch, you can usually find me trying out my amateur baking skills – Bake Off here I come!