Pixar's 25th film takes on something new and original with its characters and narrative in Turning Red that is not only a coming-of-age story about a young girl in Canada tackling the ups and downs of puberty, but it's also a lovely mother/daughter story about finding one's own independence and happiness. There's for sure been other films on the rollercoaster of emotions that is puberty, but Pixar's Turning Red has a ton of fun with those elements while sending a great message to a new generation that grew up on Pixar since their inception in 1995. Has it been that long? Highly Recommended!
Domee Shi is the talented woman who directed Pixar's short film Bao and has been a senior creative at the studio since Inside Out. She is now making her feature-length debut with Turning Red alongside co-writer Julia Cho (Halt and Catch Fire, Big Love). Shi grew up a Chinese-Canadian citizen and her own childhood was utilized as a backdrop for Turning Red. Through big transformations, embarrassing situations, friendships, and even boy-bands, Turning Red navigates the comedy of errors of growing up.
Set in Toronto, Canada in the city's busy Chinatown, the film allows for a much-needed breath of fresh air in the Pixar universe that reveals some of the Chinese culture and customs in 2002, which is when the film takes place. Those strict rules from parents as a young teenager is itching for their independence and freedom is on display in Turning Red, along with physically turning into a giant red panda. With some excellent and beautiful visuals along with some great dialogue and music from the early '00s, this little nostalgic trip down memory lane should stick its landing for most people.
Meilin Lee (Rosalie Chiang) is a straight-A student, calm, collected, and helps her parents at their tourist temple when not studying. This is how Mei is known to her parents, but to everyone else, including her four best friends at school, Mei is an exciting, loud, and musical young lady who loves illustrating the boys she has a crush on and singing karaoke to all the latest boy-band songs. These elements would certainly upset her mother Ming (Sandra Oh), who has implemented a rigorous study and work schedule for her young daughter in order for her to take over the family business.
Unfortunately, after Ming finds out about Mei's crush, she is embarrassed publicly by her own mother that triggers some ancient curse from their family temple of gods that turns the young Mei into a giant red panda when puberty strikes full force. Much like Teen Wolf in a lot of ways, it's revealed that this Panda business is generational and when Mei is the Panda, she becomes more popular and fun. To give the film some suspense, it's said that every time Mei transforms into the furry creature, it becomes meaner and more difficult to contain. But by the full red moon, both Mei and her mother must come to terms and control their emotions, or else something monumental might happen.
With these numerous aspects of growing up, it's easy to see how this film is a love letter from Shi to her family, when she grew up where she walks that razor-sharp edge of honoring the family lineage and gaining her own freedom and creative independence. While Ming just wants to do right by her daughter, she can come across as an over-the-top helicopter parent at times, but her intentions, however crazy they may be, still are rooted in love for her child. Mei's father more or less plays the Silent Bob character throughout, always delivering quiet thoughts of wisdom to his daughter in a fun way. Additionally, Turning Red is as much about teen friendships as it is about relationships with parents. Mei's four friends all come from different backgrounds and have distinct personalities that were very poignant of 2002 with great comedic and nostalgic effects. Its diverse cast of characters is most welcome and brought to life wonderfully.
The animation style mixes the best of Pixar with some iconic anime cartoon sequences, along with fantastic winks and nods to Hayao Miyazaki throughout. The settings inside a bamboo jungle along with some fantastic dream sequences really hit the mark in a fresh way for Pixar that is simply gorgeous. And the score from Ludwig Goransson allows for those pop hits of the early '00s along with. some fun, cheesy original songs performed by the fictional movie band 4 Town. These little detailed bits will no doubt bring some memories back for the older Pixar crowd that will draw out smiles and laughter.
Turning Red is a great parallel to the joys and horrors of growing up, especially for a young girl. But everyone can relate to these instances of dealing with parents and friends through these awkward times. Pixar tells a beautiful story here, even if some of the elements are a bit far-fetched and overly done. Still, Pixar knocks it out of the park with Turning Red and is fun for the whole family. Highly Recommended.