Review: Turning Red

Turning Red (2022)

Director: Domee Shi

Writers: Julia Cho and Domee Shi

Starring: Rosalie Chiang, Sandra Oh, Ava Morse, Hyein Park, Maitreyi Ramakrishnan, Orion Lee, Wai Ching Ho, Tristan Allerick Chen, and James Hong

Review: Real talk. Do we even need reviews for Pixar movies anymore? Like, is there anybody on the fence for whether or not they’re going to see Turning Red? Because, personally, I’m on board as soon as I hear there’s a new Pixar movie. It doesn’t matter to me what it’s about. With very few exceptions, I know that it’s going to hit me with an emotional wallop and that I’m going to give it at least an 8/10. Turning Red is proof of that almost exactly. Nothing about the marketing of this movie made it seem like something I’d want to see. Yet, here I am; writing up yet another glowing Pixar review. Because this movie rocks!

First of all, the plot of Turning Red is unlike anything I’ve ever seen. From the trailers, they made it look like any typical werewolf situation but it’s a little more lighthearted and fun than that. Sure, it starts off with a family curse, where the women of our character’s family turn into giant red pandas every time they feel any strong emotion. And, of course, this can only be undone with an ancient ritual. However, it quickly becomes less Hulk and more X-Men as the plot progresses and Mei learns to embrace her “curse.” There are just as many scenes of her having a blast in panda form as there are her messing things up. Moments like her jamming out to a boy band soundtrack with her friends as this gigantic monster are what’s going to stick with me. I wish the advertising had leaned into that a bit more and less of the panic.

I also LOVED how this movie was clearly based on the experiences the director/writer had growing up in Toronto. There’s one review, in particular, that’s making the rounds that I couldn’t disagree with more. In it, the white male writer claims that this was too niche of a story to tell, aimed squarely at the Chinese-Canadian girls who were teens in the 2000s. Now, I’m not going to say that that specific group won’t like this movie even more than I do. Of course, they will. It’s representative of their life’s story. However, that’s what I love about cinema. I’m there to live someone else’s life. To hear their story. I think diversity in the stories being told is one of the movies’ (and life’s) strongest elements and I’m glad major studios like Disney/Pixar are backing stories like this. I have very little in common with the lead character of this movie. However, I felt for her just as strongly as I do any other protagonist. I really don’t understand how others wouldn’t.

I was also shocked by how grown-up this movie felt. While obviously never getting explicit, it didn’t really shy away from the puberty aspect either. I never, ever thought I’d see things like pads and tampons in a Disney animation. I didn’t think it’s a topic they’d even approach. But, I’m really glad they are. We don’t need to keep this stuff a dirty little secret anymore. Maybe a movie like this will make the transition less awkward and embarrassing for people who have to go through this in the future. After all, it’s all just part of life. Likewise, this movie gets a tad horny at times. Again, obviously, there’s no sex or really anything explicit. But, it’s very clear that Mei likes boys for more than their personalities. She’s not just making dough eyes at them like Ariel or Jasmine. She’s thinking about those abs and wanting them pressed up against her. I think it’s the first time I’ve ever seen a character legitimately checking someone out and I’m here for it. Again, let’s normalize things like that. Maybe it’ll make teens feel less awkward about their changes. I’ve always been an advocate for teens watching Big Mouth, though I understand that maybe it gets a bit graphic. This, however, I think is the perfect stepping stone and should help in that oh-so-awkward transitory time. All while being totally PG.

And, of course, it wouldn’t be a Pixar film without them just hitting you square in the feels. It’s almost never just a light-hearted romp anymore. They’ve got to make you cry. Turning Red succeeds at that tremendously. On top of being a fun Teen Wolf-type movie, it also touches on themes of self-acceptance, living up to expectations, and generational trauma. Stuff that I think every single person in the world has dealt with and has battle scars from. I especially loved the mother-daughter relationship here, as both of them have to embrace the changes that are happening in their lives. The mom was afraid of losing her daughter, while the daughter was afraid of disappointing her mother. It’s all very real, emotional. and raw. I don’t know that I’ve seen a mother-daughter relationship so fully realized in a Disney flick. And, yes, it absolutely made me cry. I think that makes like five Pixar movies in a row now.

Overall, I really enjoyed Turning Red. It’s a really touching story about a girl embracing what makes her different, while also learning that she doesn’t have to live up to any standards but her own. I think that’s a very powerful message. Likewise, I was impressed with how honestly this story was told. Disney’s allowing more and more realistic elements to enter their fairytale environments and I’m here for it. I think kids can handle more than we let on. And, while I didn’t really get into it in my review, I really dug the animation style here. I’m not a huge anime fan, but even I can appreciate the nod to that style. I think Turning Red more than earns its place among the Pixar greats.

Oh, and the red panda is my favorite animal! They’re just so fluffy and cute. So, of course, I was stoked to spend so much screentime with one!

TL;DR: Turning Red is another hit for Pixar with a touching, fun, and surprisingly honest story about all the changes that come with being a teenager.

Score: 8/10 (Great)

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