I was afraid going into this film, as Pixar had lately been running a pretty bad track record for me. The last Pixar film I genuinely liked was Inside Out, and I hated 4 out of 5 of the most recent movies the studio made. Seeing how Turning Red looked to be the same art style as Luca, which was part of what killed that movie for me, I feared that this wouldn’t be much better. But as it turned out, my fears were proven wrong! This twenty-fifth feature film by Pixar is one of the best they have ever made! And I don’t say that lightly!
Yet it’s still a Pixar film, and it still forces you to constantly suspend your disbelief like one traditionally does. For instance, why is it that whenever the main character, Meilin, turns into a red panda, her clothes don’t change with her? They just disappear! And how is it that her family is just overseen by these mythological red pandas? Furthermore, how is it that she and her three friends can’t afford to buy concert tickets, yet they can afford all this merchandise to sell at fundraisers meant to help them buy said tickets?
Besides the constant plot holes, there are more issues that could offend some viewers besides the talk about the family’s pagan practices. Obviously, there’s been discussion going on about this film’s allegorical parallels to a girl getting her first period, and there is in fact a direct reference to Meilin getting her first period (which even then doesn’t make sense because she’s in eighth grade). It further crosses the line of subtlety by the mom referring to the panda transformations as “accidents,” which isn’t exactly appropriate for kids, who aren’t mature enough to talk respectfully about the sensitive topic.
There’s also a subtle nudge toward pro-abortion when Meilin says, “My panda my choice,” which won’t make this movie age very well. Even with this trying to feel like a movie set in 2002, it doesn’t age well, considering that Meilin in a couple of instances twerks while in her panda form… something you’d expect to see in 2014, not 2022! Though the most offensive part is the Mom, who is arrogantly prejudiced toward the music of the younger generation, marking her as the stereotypical antagonistic parent who won’t let her daughter do whatever she wants. This is a very dated, harmful message that kids’ movies, particularly by Disney, need to stop promoting.
In addition to the topics that could shut off some viewers, there are other little annoying bugs of error; sometimes the dialogue plays but the lips aren’t animated, the texture on the beads of sweat looks awful, and there isn’t enough time to draw a distinction between the personalities of Meilin’s three friends. There are plenty of similar little gripes that the average viewer may find here.
Okay, now that room’s been made for the bad stuff, here’s all the good stuff! It would first be appropriate to acknowledge director Domee Shi (Bao), in her feature film debut, who demonstrates how well she can translate the techniques of live-action filmmaking into animation while taking full advantage of her medium, only she could create such a heavenly sequence of Dad cooking in one scene, then in another create a stylized sequence of Chinese art designed to tell the legend of the red pandas. Other doses are full of inspiration from both anime and the early 2000s, including the music, the anime action poses, and the adorable highlights in the characters’ eyes. As those doses pop out on the screen, they’re balanced out by the careful, vibrant use of color; the school is mostly fluorescent green, which contrasts the red on Meilin.
Even the narrative flow is highly stylized for Pixar, as Meilin introduces herself by breaking the fourth wall like she’s Ferris Bueller or Deadpool, talking like the straight-A heavy achiever that she is, which instantly makes you want to root for her. Then the kids around her give much greater context to Meilin by saying what they think of her… to the style of Mean Girls. Then the narrative at one point seems to set up the main villain, as that character’s face upon introduction is obscured aside from a facial scar, but your expectations are later defied. Rather than doing a twist villain, Pixar dares to be different by doing a twist on the twist!
Pixar has become more daring with its design choices and is taking hints from Sony Pictures on how to do a stylized animated film the right way! Yet none of these stylized touches detract from the film’s heart, as you are made to feel so sorry for Meilin, and will shed tears to see her parents and friends being so supportive of her as her body is going through these unusual changes.
Best of all, with this being directed by a Chinese woman, this story about a Chinese-Canadian girl has the layers of authenticity that it needs to feel more believable. There’s talk of what it was like for the Chinese family to move into the new world and goes further to show the generational impact it has on those who were born in this new world. Meilin still keeps the cultural value of honoring family above all else but sees her coming-of-age ritual instead in the boy band concert. You can tell that this was made with love by a woman who lived this very life, as there are lines of dialogue that only a true woman of her background would understand: a character in one scene says that four is the worst number (since that’s the number of death in some East Asian cultures)!
If you think that animation is for kids, or that it can’t handle difficult topics, think again! Turning Red may not be ideal, nor will it be the standard for long, but it’s exactly what both Disney and Pixar need to aim for more mature films for more mature audiences about more mature topics, as told by the unspoken minority groups who need their testimonies to be told.
If there is a specific movie you’d like to see graded, or if you are interested in guest blogging for my site, please email me at Trevor@TrevorsViewOnHollywood.com for your recommendations.
Have a great weekend, and happy watching!