Written by: Julia Cho & Domee Shi
Starring: Rosalie Chiang, Sandra Oh, Ava Morse, Hyein Park, Maitreyi Ramakrishnan
The evolution of a young girl as she progresses towards womanhood comes with plenty of fear as they need to reckon with aspects of their biology they may not be ready for. This simply only relates to the basics without even considering the strange inherited traits that make themselves evident as they continue to age. Turning Red looks at both aspects with a level of care and charm that would melt anyone’s heart as it continues the current trend of animated features filled with personality.
Absolutely thriving in all aspects of her life, at least according to her, Mei (Rosalie Chiang) wakes up one morning as a giant Red Panda. She learns this runs in the family as each woman goes through this process and must take certain steps to conceal and then eliminate this aspect of her identity. This all aligns with her relationship with her mother beginning to evolve like never before.
Working as a thinly-veiled allegory for what girls endure when they get their first period, Turning Red has seemingly rubbed people the wrong way for accurately depicting how teenagers no longer see their parents as infallible figures. A natural progression where their interest shifts toward external affections like bands and their friends who more closely relate to their current struggles. That’s ultimately what makes this story so incredibly universal while also very specific as Mei lives her life as a Chinese-Canadian girl in Toronto. This match of specificity and universality has always led to success for Pixar and this feature is absolutely no different.
From the very onset, Mei proves to be such an intriguing character in the way she has this impeccable confidence in everything she does. She has her friends, excellent grades, and a loving relationship with her mother. This all begins to crack when she enters puberty as a level of doubt now begins to creep into her, which happens to everyone. Mei’s journey, which receives some blatant symbolism like turning into a giant Red Panda has the same feelings as countless teenage girls and needs to find a way to balance it all.
As much as the foundation of relationships she builds with her friends dictates plenty of her decision-making, the emotional core of this feature lies with Mei and her mother. Their back and forth in the beginning and how it progresses resonates so well when viewing it from the teenage perspective but also in the reverse when looking at her overprotective mother. Perhaps this feature has received so much ire because it forces parents to reckon with the reality that their child will not always be the perfect little angel they constructed to be from the beginning. Developing in the teenage years means they form their personality more than ever and begin to develop a sense of independence that these parents just do not want to reckon with. Just like Ming (Sandra Oh), needs to get over it, so do others. This emotional back and forth between these two makes for all of the emotion, especially when it gets to the typical Pixar gut-punch of tears that assuredly arrives.
Along with the beautifully emotional right of passage held within this feature, it definitely knows how to deliver some excellent humor. From capturing Mei’s insecurities and ratcheting it up to the extreme all the way to letting her imagination thrive, this film’s accurate portrayal of the teenage girl experience makes for some hilarious sequences. Whether it be her developing a crush on some gas store clerk in real-time as her hormones go wild or when she reckons with being this giant Red Panda, the allegory works well and does with plenty of laughs to go along with it. It starts from the very beginning with her introduction and continues all the way through.
As with every Pixar film from the very first in 1995, the animation on display is absolutely stunning. The level of detail on display shows so much texture but nothing makes it look better than when Mei turns into the Red Panda. The detail in the fur demonstrates exactly why this studio remains the top dog of animation. This feature also instills plenty of the cultural influences of director Domee Shi’s upbringing, which finds its way into the animation itself. It ultimately allows for something not necessarily new in the grand scheme of things but definitely in the Pixar brand and overall this feature stands the better for it.
Bringing a sensational amount of personality and a level of emotional fortitude, Turning Red dares to capture the teenage experience and perfectly encapsulate when parents begin to lose complete control of their children. This film very much takes this notion on and the fact so many are angered by it means they are exactly like Ming, who needs to get with reality. The sweetness ingrained in this feature along with the hilarious comedy makes for another fantastic entry into the Pixar library and one that provides a wonderful level of representation.