'Turning Red' review: A panda and perfect pandemonium
MOVIE “Turning Red”
WHERE Streaming on Disney+.
WHAT IT'S ABOUT The newest Pixar film "Turning Red" tells the story of Meilin "Mei" Lee (Rosalie Chiang), a 13-year-old girl living in Toronto circa 2002 and trying hard to balance the high expectations of her mother, Ming (Sandra Oh), with her everyday teenage dreams.
The former revolves around being her mom's idea of the perfect daughter, acing her schoolwork and coming right home to work at the family's temple.
The latter is predicated on the obsession with the boy band group 4*Town, which she shares with her three best pals.
After a particularly embarrassing incident involving her mother and a boy Mei likes, she goes to bed humiliated and wakes up the next day having turned into a giant red panda.
This happens to be a long-standing genetic trait for the women in her family, dating back generations, and it can only be controlled by either a) not reacting emotionally to anything, ever, or b) participating in a ritual on the night of the Red Moon.
"Turning Red" is the feature filmmaking debut of Domee Shi, who won an Oscar for the short film "Bao." It's streaming now on Disney+.
MY SAY This is a movie for anyone who has experienced the turmoil Mei experiences, which is to say just about everyone.
Few conflicts are more wrenching than the one depicted here, as Mei faces down the impossible choice of disappointing the mother whose approval she's always sought or suppressing her truest self: a young girl who loves music and boys and her friends.
We've all been there in one way or another, and what makes "Turning Red" so special is the extent to which the filmmaker has come up with a vivid external symbol of this internal struggle.
The panda within must be suppressed at times, of course, but there are also moments where it can and should come out.
The movie understands what it's like to be a young teenager who feels things very deeply: Shi engages with Mei's subjective perspective and her heightened emotions with the wisdom required to take them seriously, including through visual flourishes such as depictions of her true thoughts and feelings on a white heavenly background.
The pressures of familial expectations weigh extra heavily on Mei as she comes to understand the extent to which the panda is tied into the story of women in her family.
The movie engages with this history, including through its depiction of an otherworldly bamboo forest that can only be visited during the Red Moon ritual, while also being rooted in the very particular time and place of Toronto in 2002, a world that's filled with period-perfect touches such as flip phones, boy bands and Tamagotchi pets.
The movie earns its place among the Pixar greats because of the extent to which it's both entertaining and inspirational, as Mei develops the courage to make her own decisions.
"I'm 13, deal with it!" she exclaims. Rock on.
BOTTOM LINE "Turning Red" is a perfect movie for anyone who has felt torn between the desires of loved ones and the need to carve out your own path in life.