Directed by: Domee Shi
Premise: An animated film. Set in 2002, a thirteen-year-old girl (voice of Rosalie Chiang) turns into a giant red panda whenever she gets excited. She and her friends use her talent to raise money to attend a concert while her mother (voice of Sandra Oh) tries to suppress the panda.
What Works: Turning Red is a beautifully made film. Pixar is known for the quality of its work and the technical accomplishments of Turning Red make this top-tier Pixar. The characters and the story world are wonderfully detailed with a visual style that nods to anime and stop motion. The filmmakers do an excellent job distinguishing their characters. Thirteen-year-old Mei has a group of similarly aged friends and each of them has a distinct personality conveyed through their character design and voice. But the filmmakers also infuse Turning Red with the hormonal energy of early adolescence. The film includes inserts shots and fantasy sequences that visualize the mental state of the characters. The storytelling moves quickly with the narrative and its emotional highs and lows making sharp turns. But the picture never feels erratic. Turning Red shifts between radically different tones in a way that plays organically. That’s because Turning Red, like many of Pixar’s best films, acknowledges the complexity and nuances of life. This picture has a lot going on. As a metaphor, the red panda has multiple applications. The film makes an obvious connection between Mei’s physical transformation and menstruation and therefore womanhood but the red panda can also be taken to symbolize Mei’s potential and assertiveness; her mother’s repression of that inner spirit threatens to create something monstrous. The panda is also Mei’s cultural inheritance that her family paradoxically wants to conceal and that has implications about the ways minorities repress or adapt their culture. The multifaceted metaphor allows Turning Red to be a sophisticated take on growing up and the way maturation causes family conflict. But Turning Red does all that while being a lot of fun. This is likely to be a movie that viewers come back to at various ages and find it speaks to them in different ways at different points in their lives.
What Doesn’t: As film critic Walter Chaw pointed out in his review of Turning Red, this film is invested in Asian stereotypes, in particular the docile father and the “tiger mom.” It isn’t just Mei’s parents. The supporting characters include Mei’s extended family and everyone fits their stereotypical Asian gender role. While the film uses those character traits to drive the story, the characters generally remain within that framework, validating the stereotypes.
DVD extras: On Disney+.
Bottom Line: Turning Red is one of Pixar’s better films. This fairy tale of adolescence and maturity is beautifully crafted and its story possesses an intelligence and emotional range that put Turning Red in the same league as Inside Out and Toy Story 3.
Episode: #895 (March 20, 2022)