Review: Turning Red
A bundle of charm and nostalgia, Disney Pixar’s latest entry Turning Red is worth your time but unlikely to become a classic for its scattershot approach.
Pixar’s 25th feature film certainly stands out next to the studio’s previous releases and not just because it’s a Disney+ exclusive. Coming-of-age comedy Turning Red centres on 13-year-old Chinese-Canadian student Meilin “Mei” Lee (voiced by Rosalie Chiang), living in Toronto in 2002. While she and her gaggle of friends attempt to navigate the world of school, boys and pseudo-independence, Meilin begins suffering from a hereditary curse that causes her to transform into a giant red panda in times of heightened emotion or distress.
The puberty metaphors aren’t subtle but neither is the film and Mei’s larger-than-life predicament injects a lot of fun (and marketability) into the highs and lows of growing up. The film’s largely feminine focus in relation to these themes has led it to catch some flack, with claims that it lacks relatability or alienates part of its audience by daring to include things such as (brace yourself) women’s sanitary products.
These inclusions really shouldn’t be raising any eyebrows considering the film’s core thread and the idea that they are somehow inappropriate when half or more of the film’s audience will have to learn about them sooner or later is baffling. The way Turning Red unapologetically addresses these aspects makes it a breath of fresh air among Pixar’s filmography and, with the mouse refraining from omitting any concept or word that might cause slight discomfort, gives the film a real sense of authenticity.
There’s a lot to love in Turning Red, then, but that’s also the film’s downfall
The film also stands out due to its animation, which folds anime influences and a greater focus on physical comedy into Pixar’s already pristine standard of presentation. Some of the film’s most laugh-out-loud moments come from nothing more than the characters’ expressions and movements and the added expressiveness works wonders in a film that celebrates identity.
While, by the film’s own admission, Mei and her friends can be slightly annoying at times, their bubbly personalities are deftly brought to life ensuring that while they’re on-screen there’s never a dull moment. However, the best of Turning Red’s aesthetic appeal comes from its setting, which serves both as a sentimental throwback and an affectionate teasing of the noughties.
Whether you yearn or cringe looking back, there’s a true nostalgic charm that comes with the blockiness of the Tamagotchis, camcorders and Casios, as well as the subject of Meilin’s obsession, the boyband “4*Town”, who hilariously satirise the pop group sensations of the time (as an unabashed *NSYNC stan, this was a real treat).
There’s a lot to love in Turning Red, then, but that’s also the film’s downfall – it ends up being pulled in a lot of different directions and, while each thread is interesting in its own right, the story always seems to move abruptly on to the next big idea before the last has had a chance to make its mark. As the grand culmination of generational trauma began to take the form of a hulking kaiju (no, seriously), all I found myself wondering was “Wait, wasn’t this about a teenager wanting to see the Backstreet Boys twenty minutes ago?”
The whiplash-inducing plot certainly won’t help Turning Red become a Pixar classic, even if the film is charming and entertaining enough to back it up. Still, if you have a Disney+ subscription (or more likely, are leeching off your friend’s or relative’s), Turning Red is an enjoyable watch with friends if you’re looking for something fun, heartwarming and fresh.