Warning: Review contains mild spoilers for Turning Red based only on trailers and promotional materials.
Pixar’s latest release, Turning Red, is an upbeat film bursting with chaotic teenage energy. It’s the perfect marriage between puberty rage, boy band obsessions, evolving familial relationships, and facing the reality of growing up. Disney+ released the film earlier this month, and it has become a sensation.
Academy Award winner Domee Shi created Turning Red and “is the first woman to solo-direct a Pixar film in the studio’s 36-year history,” according to an article on cnbc.com. She patterned the film after some of her own experiences growing up in Toronto as a Chinese-Canadian girl. As such, in addition to the main plot, viewers can expect themes of generational trauma, plenty of Canadian landmarks and references, and a nuanced look into Chinese culture.
The cast of Turning Red is predominantly Asian, which seems fitting for a movie about a Chinese-Canadian girl and her family. The actors are absolutely killer and include big stars such as Sandra Oh (Grey’s Anatomy, Killing Eve), who voices Mei’s mother, and Maitreyi Ramakrishnan (Never Have I Ever) as one of Mei’s friends, Priya, but the film also welcomes newcomers such as Rosalie Chiang who voices Mei.
Thirteen-year-old Mei Lee is the main character in Turning Red. Throughout the film, viewers witness her struggle between strict obedience to her overbearing mother and embracing her own emerging personality. Although this is a struggle that most pubescent kids face, what sets Mei apart is that she turns into a fluffy red panda when she is overcome with extreme emotions. Mei later discovers that this transformation happens to all women in their family when they hit puberty, and the transformation can only be undone by a special ritual. The film is set in 2002 Toronto, right at the end of the boy band era, and one of the main plots is how Mei and her starry-eyed friends are trying to raise funds to buy tickets to see “4*Town.”
This film is unique because it hits home for so many different groups of people. Anyone who has gone through puberty will relate to the roller coaster of emotions, first crushes, the desire to break free from the tight grasp of parents, and the bodily changes that happen during this time.
Because of its groundbreaking, raw depiction of things like blatant disobedience and menstruation, Turning Red has received some criticism, primarily from parents who don’t want their children patterning Mei’s behaviour.
However, many people, myself included, enjoyed seeing an accurate depiction of what it’s like to grow up with all of the extreme emotional ups and downs during this time of life. Gone are the days when every kid’s movie features a damsel in distress who needs a man to save her and give her purpose. Turning Red instead embraces the messy, imperfect part of becoming an independent woman without dismissing the boy crazy phase that many of us went through.
There are just so many hidden gems in this film that it’s impossible to point them all out. However, one example is that Priya, one of Mei’s friends, was written to have an obsession with vampires, and so throughout the movie, we see her vampire-like behaviour and clothing style. I love the emphasis on obsession because it is so accurate; at 13, we are all obsessed with something. Another one is Mei’s secret lusty journal that she writes and draws in under her bed — haven’t we all done something like that at one point while growing up?
Not only are the messages ground-breaking, but the animation is also next-level, especially when it comes to the food. In one scene, we see Mei’s dad cooking bao, a traditional Chinese bun filled with savoury deliciousness. As one writer says on eater.com, she even noticed the “flour-y un-steamed bao versus the steamed texture in Jin’s cooking process.” The film is truly breathtaking in its realistic animation, and it was even inspired by anime, a first for a Pixar film.
Overall, this beautifully animated film portrays puberty in a raw, personal light that anyone who has gone through puberty can relate to. Is it hard to watch at times? Absolutely. But only because it hits so close to home, and many of us don’t look back fondly on those days when acne speckled our faces and our moods were out of control.
I give Turning Red a five out of five, and I totally recommend it if you are looking for a funny film that will give you all the throwback feels.
Graphic: Nawaal Basha