Adventure Animation

Review: ‘Turning Red’ is a Quirky Coming-of-Age Tale that’s Destined to Become a New Pixar Classic

March 7, 2022Ben MK

Best known for such blockbuster hits as Toy Story, Monsters Inc. and Finding Nemo, Pixar has built a Hollywood empire based on films featuring cute and memorable characters, family-friendly storylines and groundbreaking computer graphics. It's only recently, however, with such movies as Onward, Soul and Luca, that the iconic animation studio has begun to embrace and explore a wider and more diverse variety of narratives and viewpoints. And with Turning Red, Pixar is happily continuing that trend, as it sets out to tell the tale of one girl's tumultuous journey into adolescence, and her struggles with family pressures, teen angst and her magical transformation into a giant red panda.

The year is 2002, and 13-year-old Meilin Lee (Rosalie Chiang) — or Mei-Mei, as she's known to her mom Ming (Sandra Oh) — is your average overachieving eighth-grader. An "enterprising and mildly annoying" honor student who also helps out at her family's temple in Toronto's Chinatown after school, Meilin enjoys everything from math to music. However, when she's not in class, she and her BFFs, Miriam (Ava Morse), Priya (Maitreyi Ramakrishnan) and Abby (Hyein Park), are either ogling the 17-year-old clerk at the nearby Daisy Mart or fawning over the members in their favorite boy band, 4*Town. Indeed, it would almost seem that Meilin has it all figured out, as she deftly juggles the demands of her academic studies, her family responsibilities and her extracurricular activities. What she doesn't count on, though, is the unexpected curve ball that life is about to throw her way.

You see, little does Meilin realize that the women in her family are all blessed with a unique and special gift, handed down to them from the most revered of all their ancestors, Sun Yee, the guardian of the red pandas. And when Meilin wakes up one morning in the body of a giant red panda, she quickly discovers that that gift can be both a blessing and a curse. Suddenly, she has to be extra careful about getting too worked up about anything, since any strong emotion can bring about her miraculous metamorphosis into the oversized and extremely furry creature. But with 4-Town bringing their sold-out concert tour to Toronto in a matter of weeks, can Meilin find a way to keep her inner panda at bay long enough to convince her parents to let her attend? And how will she and her friends ever raise the $800 they need to actually buy tickets for the concert? As Meilin eventually learns, her family's legacy might be inconvenient, to say the least, but being a giant red panda may not be so bad after all.

Directed and co-written by Domee Shi, whose 2018 short film Bao won the hearts of audiences and critics alike, what follows is a heartwarming, funny and charming coming-of-age tale that everyone can relate to. From the prominent role that Chinese culture plays in the movie to the nods to Canada's largest city, not to mention all the Pixar Easter eggs along the way, there's something for everyone, whether you're Asian, a Torontonian, or just an animation buff. Above all else, however, this is a movie about growing up and the expectations parents place on their children. And while it's quite possible to enjoy Turning Red based solely on its numerous other merits, it's as a story about the relationship between a mother and her daughter that the film truly shines.

That said, there are those who might criticize Turning Red for its avoidance of traditional Pixar tropes. And even though that may hold true in some respects, it's also one of the film's strengths. After all, what good would a movie about challenging expectations be if it simply conformed to the ones established by its predecessors? Instead, the result dares to step outside the boundaries of what has come before, offering up a quirky, endearing and delightfully animated adventure that's guaranteed to become a new Pixar classic.

Turning Red begins streaming March 11th, 2022, exclusively on Disney Plus. The film has an MPAA rating of PG for thematic material, suggestive content and language. Its runtime is 1 hr. 40 min.

You May Also Like