The following article contains spoilers. Read with caution.
Disney and Pixar have released their latest outing in the world of animation, “Turning Red.” Directed by Domee Shi, written by Julia Cho and Shi with a story by Cho, Shi and Sarah Streicher, “Turning Red” is a film set in 2002 Toronto, about Meilin “Mei” Lee, a 13-year-old girl who transforms into a giant red panda when she experiences significant emotions. It was inspired by Shi’s adventures in Toronto. This is the first Pixar picture directed by a woman and the second to have an Asian protagonist after “Up.”
The story follows Mei Lee as she goes through early high school and cares for her family’s ancient temple where her family lives. She, along with her three best friends Abby, Priya and Miriam, goes through puberty and desperately wants to go see a music concert for their favorite boy band, 4*Town.
But after an embarrassing moment with her crush, with her mother accidentally humiliating her, she has a moment of extreme emotion that causes her to wake up as a giant red panda. She then discovers that the curse is a hereditary gift that has been passed down from generation to generation and that she can turn back to her normal self whenever she stays calm.
While there are harsher issues in the world than millions of people having quick access to an excellent family film, “Turning Red” is better than just about anything now showing in a theater. It would have been much better on a big screen, given its strong visual aesthetics and grand ending (not to mention great pop music).
A direct-to-streaming launch is undoubtedly not what Pixar’s wonderful artists envisioned when they made this incredible film, but as “Turning Red” tells us, life rarely goes as planned. The script, story, humor and animation all go hand-in-hand to make a really solid piece of animated filmmaking from Disney and Pixar.
The plot has a well-paced buildup with all the established character arcs coming to a great conclusion. It balances Mei’s struggles with responsibilities.
It’s uncommon to find a film that is completely realistic and accurate of a person’s genuine life, especially for westernized Asians, who are infrequently given the opportunity to share their own story. Fortunately, Disney-Pixar’s “Turning Red” does all of this and more. The film continues to expand the Disney collections in a way that isn’t just for showing off; it’s clear in the plot and behind the scenes. Mei’s life and work at the temple are profoundly rooted in her Chinese ancestry, and her friends are diverse, well-rounded individuals from a variety of ethnic origins.
Like Disney’s previous success “Encanto,” the film addresses family trauma. Mei and her mother Ming are both dealing with not feeling worthy of their moms and don’t want to sever their bonds, but in attempting to do so, they divide emotionally. When the two realize they are good enough for each other and that no one is flawless all the time, no matter how hard they try, it’s a beautiful moment that tugs at spectators’ hearts.
“Turning Red” is a film about relationships and accepting one’s entire self. The fragile air of confidence Mei exudes at the opening of the film is replaced with a fresh surge of self-assurance and awareness as it concludes. Mei has found peace with her “inner beast,” the “chaotic, noisy, odd” aspect of herself that she had the bravery to let out — an appropriate landing spot, given that the red panda represents strength and control.
The theme of “Turning Red” stands out as a timeless narrative that will live on as one of Pixar’s greatest hits, and Mei’s sincere journey of self-discovery is an incredible joy to witness.