A 13-year-old girl named Meilin turns into a giant red panda whenever she gets too excited.
Pixar’s latest movie, ‘Turning Red‘, is another Covid-induced direct to streaming release (something that I must confess is a slight disappointment), centering on a teenage Chinese-Canadian girl who transforms into a giant panda when she feels a strong emotion due to a curse within her family. It is the directorial debut of Domee Shi, who previously made the wonderful Pixar short ‘Bao’, and in her first feature she tells a story loosely based on her own experiences growing up.
The film is set in 2002 where we are introduced to Mei (Rosalie Chiang), a 13-year-old girl who lives with her parents and helps take care of the family’s temple in Toronto. Her mother (Sandra Oh) is a tad overprotective and that means that Mei hides her friends and real interests from her, including an infatuation with a boyband called 4*Town and a crush on a boy who works at the local shop. The embarrassment caused when her mum finds out and confronts this unassuming boy brings the curse to life, and Mei is forced to deal with this not so subtle metaphor for the coming of age experience. There are elements of ‘Turning Red’ that I did enjoy, particularly the anime stylings and the recreation of the style and trends of the early 2000s, but the main characters were quite annoying and there is an undoubted feeling that this is Pixar on autopilot.
It is disappointing how so many recent Pixar efforts are interchangeable from Disney animations now and ‘Turning Red’ is a textbook example. Even after the Disney takeover there was a distinction between the type of movies produced by the respective animation studios but that distinction is becoming less and less apparent and films like ‘Luca’ and ‘Turning Red’ are Disney movies in all but name. That in itself isn’t a bad thing and there’s been some cracking Disney efforts of late (‘Moana’ for one), but I liked the ambition and originality you would find in Pixar’s best works, and that’s something that’s been lost a bit in the past 2-3 years. Hopefully, post-Covid, we’ll see Pixar rediscover their mojo, and get their films back in the cinema!
Directed By: Domee Shi
Starring: Rosalie Chiang, Sandra Oh, Ava Morse, Maitreyi Ramakrishnan, Hyein Park, Orion Lee, Wai Ching Ho, Tristan Allerick Chen, James Hong, Addie Chandler, Sasha Roiz and Lily Sanfelippo