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Film Review: ‘Turning Red’ Finds Pixar Exploring the Beast That is Puberty

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WE’VE GOT YOUR (FLUFFY) BACK – In Disney and Pixar’s all-new original feature film “Turning Red,” everything is going great for 13-year-old Mei—until she begins to “poof” into a giant panda when she gets too excited. Fortunately, her tightknit group of friends have her fantastically fluffy red panda back. Featuring the voices of Rosalie Chiang, Ava Morse, Maitreyi Ramakrishnan and Hyein Park as Mei, Miriam, Priya and Abby, “Turning Red” opens in theaters on March 11, 2022. © 2021 Disney/Pixar. All Rights Reserved.

What if Pixar made Teen Wolf for younger girls? The result is Turning Red, the company’s latest animated event. This is an interesting current period of time for Pixar, as they’ve seemingly fallen short of greatness on a consistent basis, while still putting out incredibly strong animated fare. Of course, being really good instead of great is nothing to be ashamed about. So, if the film never quite gets to instant classic status, this is the kind of specific yet universal type of project that they do so well. Turning Red is a movie that tween girls will fall in love with, but it doesn’t prevent anyone else from having a wonderful time. I know I did.

Turning Red is less ambitious than something like Inside Out or Soul, while still attempting to get at the core of human experience. In some ways, it’s a great companion piece to last year’s Luca. While that was about friendship and a bit of a love-letter to being a pre-teen boy in the summer, this flick looks at family and especially a girl becoming a woman. Without ever becoming deeper than expected, it’s still thoroughly well done and well realized.

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Canadian teenager Mei Lee (voice of Rosalie Chiang) is as confident and dorky a 13-year-old as there is. Happy, smart, and rather intense, she’s often torn between staying her mother’s dutiful/perfect daughter and the chaos of adolescence, alongside her friends. Mei Lee’s overbearing and protective mother Ming (voice of Sandra Oh), is never very far from her daughter, which has recently being something of a pain for the teen. Soon, it’s going to become even more of an issue. As if changes to her interests, relationships, and body aren’t enough to complicate life, whenever she gets too excited she turns into a giant red panda.

As Mei Lee attempts to conceal her “poofing” issue, Ming wants to figure out what is wrong. When her friends discover her ability, it doesn’t scare them, but instead brings a coolness into her life. Of course, it won’t be that simple for long, as Ming’s connection to Mei Lee’s issue holds deep consequences if it isn’t dealt with. It all culminates in a reckoning both with the teen’s body and her family as well.

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The voice cast is very solid, with Rosalie Chiang and Sandra Oh leading the way. Chiang has an enthusiasm that may come off as annoying to some initially, but she really grows on you. A few throwaway lines and expressions especially tickled me. As for Oh, she’s demanding and stern, but the soul of the character always shines through. Supporting voice work in Turning Red comes from Wai Ching Ho, James Hong, Orion Lee, Ava Morse, Finneas O’Connell, and many more.

Co-writer/director Domee Shi clearly has a personal connection to this story. Along with co-writer Julia Cho, Shi crafts a truly lived in tale that’s also out there and even wild. There’s brilliant colors, a lot of humor, and a connection to mothers and daughters that you’ll almost certainly respond to. Throw in a very nice score from composer Ludwig Göransson and Shi has something in Turning Red that’s about to find a major audience.

Turning Red is another solid success for Pixar. Families can easily enjoy it, even if daughters and mothers may get a little bit more out of it. As long as you aren’t determined to see a masterpiece from the company every single time out, it’s pretty unlikely that this film will disappoint you. It’s often delightful, never boring, and features a memorable color palette. What’s not to like?

SCORE: ★★★

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Written by Joey Magidson

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