Disney and Pixar’s “Turning Red” debuts on Disney+ March 11th, 2022. I have watched the animated film twice and the movie is now one of my top favorite Pixar films. Here is my review!
Producer Domee Shi has created a memorable and highly relatable 13-year old character in Meilin Lee (newcomer Rosalie Chiang), who is a confident and “slightly dorky” – and starts turning into a giant red panda anytime she gets emotional as part of the onset of puberty. Shi has said that “It’s kind of like ‘The Incredible Hulk,’ but cuter.”
Mei is close to her mom Ming (Sandra Oh), working at the family temple and spending time together – until the panda arrives. And then – just like in real life – Mei wants to spend more time with her friends, has an interest in boys and does things that her mom finds rebellious (like wanting to go to a 4*Town boy band concert). “Turning Red” is set in Toronto, Canada in the early 2000’s, the height of the boy band era. Mei has a close set of friends with distinct personalities, but they all love 4*Town.
Mei first has to tame the panda, so she can leave the house without being 8 feet tall, red and furry – but really the film is more of acceptance and embracing that side. Shi has said,“We’re basically using the red panda as an adorable metaphor for the very unadorable phenomenon of puberty”. “Turning Red” is a mother-daughter film at the heart of it, and includes scenes inspired by Shi’s relationship with her own mother (like when Ming stands outside the school, a scene which is featured in the trailers).
Rosalie Chiang is a delight as Mei. Chiang was not chosen originally for the part, she auditioned early on to do the temporary recordings as the filmmakers worked on the story. After auditions started, the filmmakers realized they couldn’t imagine anyone else in the role as Mei.
“Turning Red” is a beautifully crafted film with a coming-of-age story that many of those watching will relate to. There are cringe-worthy moments (including one having to do with a sketchbook) as well as the scene with Mei’s mom outside the school window and also – of course with her mom – a bathroom scene where her mom assumes she’s having her first period. There are laugh-out-loud moments, like when Mei’s parents test her on how well she can tame the panda. Mei’s friends are all unique, and there are a lot of fun moments with them (including trying to make money for the 4*Town concert). There are other interesting aspects to the film, like the ritual that could rid Mei of the red panda.
“Turning Red” is stunning artistically. I wish that the movie could have had a movie theater debut, I’d love to have seen it on a larger screen.
Mousesteps grade: A