TURNING RED (DISNEY+) (2022)
SYNOPSIS: Disney and Pixar’s “Turning Red” introduces Mei Lee (voice of Rosalie Chiang), a confident, dorky 13-year-old torn between staying her mother’s dutiful daughter and the chaos of adolescence. Her protective, if not slightly overbearing mother, Ming (voice of Sandra Oh), is never far from her daughter—an unfortunate reality for the teenager. And as if changes to her interests, relationships and body weren’t enough, whenever she gets too excited (which is practically ALWAYS), she “poofs” into a giant red panda!
Helming a Pixar project and finally being credited for it is akin to striking the lottery consider that many animators and their projects are either abruptly aborted by the studio after an official announcement, replaced by other filmmakers during the production process or underwent a major makeover.
In comes Domee Shi, the Pixar-storyboard artist behind the Best Animated Short Film, Bao. Under the tutelage of her mentor Pete Docter (Soul, Up), Shi’s first full-length animated feature is finally on streaming and we can tell you it’s yet another enjoyable, daring piece of animation worthy of the Pixar banner.
Written by Julia Cho, Sarah Streicher and Shi, Turning Red is both a fantasy with Chinese influences and also a coming-of-age drama peppered with lots of jokes and gags. Instead of a Princess with magical ice powers or excellent archery skills, we have “Mei” (Rosalie Chiang), a 13-year-old over-achiever from a Toronto junior high school who hopes to attend a concert by pop group, 4 Town (a giddy combination of Backstreet Boys and BTS) with her group of equally wide-eyed besties.
But Mei is no ordinary teenager. Her mother runs their ancestry temple which honours the deity Sun Yee whose power allows her to be turned into a giant red panda in order to protect her children and village during war times. The blessing however has sort of turned into a curse as every female descendants of Sun Yee will turn into a furry red panda whenever they experience any strong emotion. And Mei is no exception.
In order to “cure” Mei of the transformation, a ritual is set by her mother, Ming (Sandra Oh) on the 25th of May which is also the day of 4 Town concert. Will Mei be able to attend the concert which she has looking forward to or risk being a red panda forever?
Without being crude and too “in-your-face”, Turning Red delves hard into issues of teenage puberty. Menstruation is touched on. Exploding emotions and BGR matters are discussed. An overbearing mother and grandmother are also involved in Mei’s life. Most of the relatable teenage issues are delivered through funny and outlandish gags making the otherwise awkward situations easier to swallow.
While Luca centers mainly on Italian cultures, Shi creatively infuses Asian influences and traditions into Turning Red even though we can assure you there’s no Sun Yee/Red Panda deity in any Chinese temples. And do check out composer Ludwig Goransson’s (The Mandalorian) track, Red Moon Ritual which fits perfectly into the movie or any Asian supernatural ones. There are so much Chinese-Western influences and perspectives that you probably need another round of viewing to take in all the witty fun.
Beneath all the loud rambunctious antics is an animation about adolescence, identity and family relationship. Some hardcore Pixar fans might find this a sell-out or mainly an average animation flick to appeal to teenagers. While definitely not on the level of more adult-oriented fares like Soul and Inside Out, Turning Red is an adoring visually-rich animation that proves Domee Shi is the next animator and filmmaker to watch out for.
Review by Linus Tee