Movie Review: Turning Red

After a string of movies that felt like lesser-tier Pixar (though still mostly very good), it looks like the renowned animation studio may have another masterpiece on their hands. Taking influence from Chinese folklore, director and co-writer Domee Shi, best known for her Pixar short Bao, gifts us with this vibrant and unique coming-of-age story about a Chinese-Canadian family in Toronto, the female members of which all have the spirit of a red panda inside them that first makes itself known around the time that they begin to hit puberty.

13-year-old Mei Lee (Rosalie Chiang) is every parents’ dream daughter, acing all of her classes and happily helping with the family temple, which is a mildly popular tourist attraction. Her friends all have a crush on a convenience store clerk named Devon, which Mei doesn’t really understand, but one evening while trying to study she finds herself drawing pictures of him and realizing that she might be attracted to him as well. Her mother Ming (Sandra Oh) discovers her doodles and concludes that he must have been behaving inappropriately with her daughter, so she storms down to the shop and creates a scene in front of Mei’s classmates. This upsets Mei so much that she has a nightmare about red pandas and awakens to discover that she has turned into a giant one.

Mei discovers that heightened emotions cause her to transform into the panda and that thinking of her core friend group keeps her centered enough to keep things under control. She also learns that her parents knew this day would come and that the ability has been passed down amongst the women in her family for generations, but that there is a ritual that can be performed to banish the panda’s spirit from her body. That spirit however, helps her to begin to come out of her shell and realize who she wants to be, and as such she starts to wonder if she doesn’t want to keep things the way they are.

Turning Red is a sweet and relatable story about how frightening and empowering this time can be for a young person, and girls in particular. The thinly veiled metaphor of the plot is a great device to exemplify the seemingly sudden physical changes teenagers experience. The awkward confusion around having one’s first crush is adeptly portrayed as well, with the right blend of heart and humor. Perhaps most poignant of all though is the way it shows a young person begin to discover their true self while their parents slowly realize that their relationship with their child is about to change forever, and all they can do is try to be as supportive as possible. While many of the studio’s trademark touches are present, this still feels like a refreshingly different story for them to tackle, and proves that Pixar can still successfully make bold swings at family movie excellence. ★★★★★

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RATED PG for thematic material, suggestive content, and language.

★★★★★ = Excellent | ★★★★ = Very Good | ★★★ = Good | ★★ = Fair | ★ = Poor

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