For the third movie in a row, Disney continues to release Pixar movies exclusively on Disney+, even though, once again this was a movie that deserved to be seen on the big screen in all its beauty and glory.
Turning Red is about a 13-year-old girl who thinks she is already all grown up. She is smart. She does everything by the book. She has three best friends whom she will do anything for. She is also a 13-year-old girl, which means she also has an insane love for boy bands – specifically 4*Town (why are they called 4*Town when there are five of them, her mother asks).
When she gets the chance to go see this band in concert, she asks her mom for permission, with a giant presentation planned out – only for her mom to tell her no. This is where we see the other side of the life that Meilin Lee (Rosalie Chiang) lives. Her mother Ming (Sandra Oh) is overbearing and a true helicopter mother. She has a plan for Mellin’s life and there will be no detours.
She proves how bad she can be when she learns that Meilin has a crush on a guy who works at the convenience store and she goes to the store and rips into the boy for tempting her daughter – even though he didn’t do anything at all. This is also why Meilin has so many people picking on her at school – but at least she has her three friends all standing by her side.
That leads to the actual story. When Meilin gets so overwrought after losing her chance to see 4*Town, she turns into a giant red panda. It turns out this is a family curse and no one has ever been able to control the panda. It is why Ming has a distanced relationship from her own mother, who was as much a helicopter mom as she is to Meilin.
At first, this entire red panda change is used as a metaphor for puberty (I’m a gross monster”). However, when Meilin realizes people think the panda is cute, she uses it to try to raise money for the concert behind her mother’s back. Sadly, this doesn’t work out well when her grandmother and aunts show up to force her into a ritual that will free her from this curse forever.
But, by that time, Meilin is not sure she wants to be free.
This movie could easily have been a teenage girl’s version of The Hulk, but instead, it shows a girl who comes to grips with the changes to her body and wants to roll with it. There is a moment where her mother reverts and tries to reclaim control, but outside of that, it is about Meilin and her journey into being the panda she was meant to be. She also alienates her only three friends, but that is where animated family movies excel, in showing the true power of friendship.
Director and co-writer Domee Shi, who won an Oscar for the short movie Bao, created a beautiful and heartwarming tale of a girl who takes control of her life, despite all the obstacles put up in her way. The friendship between the four friends is tumultuous, but every beat of their ups and downs feels real.
The mother-daughter dynamic is fantastic, with both realizing they need to work together and not in a controlling way. The way these two female characters learn to live together is magical and the cultural aspects of their relationship play into this so well.
The animation is also beautiful, and this might be one of Pixar’s most colorful and vibrant movies, yet maintaining what makes the studio the best in the world at what they do. In the end, Turning Red is a great movie about change, about a young person becoming what they are meant to be, even if society doesn’t deem it normal. It is Pixar doing what Pixar does best.