Released: 11th March
Seen: 13th March
Writing about a Pixar film feels a little bit like writing about a Marvel film at this point, the odds are good that it’s going to be somewhere around the great range and the compliments that you can throw its way all feel very similar because they’ve managed to hone in on a formula that works so well that it’s hard to pick holes in it. Turning Red is one of those films that really shows Pixar at its best in terms of how it tells these stories and while a lot of it would fit into what a regular high-quality Pixar film normally shows, there are a few elements to this that elevate it into something genuinely special… plus, it has a lot of adorable giant red pandas which means it’s the best movie to come out in a long time because how can you deny the cuteness of giant red pandas?
Turning Red takes place in the far off time known as 2002 and follows Meilin Lee (Rosalie Chiang), a 13-Year-old Chinese-Canadian girl who does her best to live up to the expectations of her strict mother, Ming Lee (Sandra Oh). On top of getting good grades in school and trying to keep up with her extracurricular activities, Meilin is also expected to help out around the family Temple, which is designed to honour their ancestor Sun Yee who took on the spirit of the red panda in order to protect their village. Of course, Meilin is a 13-year-old girl which means she has started to like boys, wants to spend more time with her friends and even go to a concert by the famous pop group 4*Town (A badly named group that actually contains 5 members).
Of course, her mother doesn’t want her to go and the intense emotion of the moment happens to occur on the night of a red moon… which means, according to how movies work, that Meilin gains the ability to turn into a giant red panda any time she’s in a highly emotional state. Fortunately, this can be reversed by a ritual on the next red moon but during that time, Meilin will have to try and control her emotions or learn how to embrace them while also dealing with the genuinely difficult period of becoming an adult and handling what life might throw at you.
Turning Red is one of those films that just draws you in with its charm, wit and visual style right off the bat. Within a few minutes of meeting Meilin she has undoubtedly won you over with her energy and fourth-wall-breaking commentary and soon you can’t help but just see yourself in her, at least if you have ever been a young tween who is just starting to figure out who they are. Bonus points if you were around this age in 2002 and can just viscerally remember how it felt to be at that awkward age where it felt like the world was getting too much for you while you tried to deal with the boy band craze and just figuring out who you are.
It’s that feeling of what it’s like to hit that awkward age between childhood and adulthood that Turning Red handles brilliantly, making the awkwardness of starting puberty into something funny and incredibly relatable even to those who haven’t been that age for the longest time. In the first moment where the film leapt from being Pixar’s usual greatness into something truly special was when they reveal that there’s a lot of metaphor here… as in the mother thinks that her daughter is starting her period, “Turning Red” is literally a period joke of a title and the metaphor works incredibly.
Turning Red’s clever little metaphor lets the fear of that phase of a young person’s life be given a visualisation that’s easy to understand and then shows how you can adapt to that change and grow with it. It’s another in the series of Pixar films that take a complicated adult subject and explains it to kids in a way that’s not condescending in the slightest, like how Inside Out tackled the complexity of emotions and mental health or how Soul handled the concept of life and death, this one handles the shift into adulthood so wonderfully that it’s hard not to just completely love every little bit of it.
On top of just handling a touchy topic with such intelligence, Turning Red just has some of the most hilarious animations I’ve seen in a while, probably not since Mitchells VS The Machines has a 3D film embraced the extreme potential of the medium like this (though I’m sure there’s others since then that I’ve missed) by not only utilizing great comedic posing but being willing to throw in nods to other styles of animation, anyone who’s seen shows like Sailor Moon is going to notice a heavy influence here, and it all really gives the story a lot of energy. A story about extreme emotions really should have extreme depictions of said emotions and Turning Red does that so well that you could pull all the dialogue and still get the point they’re making, though you wouldn’t want to because there’s also just a ton of funny dialogue in here.
Turning Red is a genuinely smart take on the shock and awkwardness of going through puberty, from the moment you realise your body is changing to starting to get new interests that you have to try and hide from your parents. It’s a wonderfully relatable story that uses its cultural setting to give Turning Red a specific flavour but never so much that it’s impossible to engage with… let’s put it this way, I’m as far from a 13-year-old Chinese-Canadian girl as you could possibly get and even I found a tonne to latch onto here. It’s a funny, sweet and charming film that’s another notch on Pixar’s already impressive belt of quality releases.