Feel old yet? Because it’s finally happened. People are getting gooey-eyed about the era of hot pink, pixelated video games and jeggings. And with Pixar’s Turning Red likewise brimming with boy bands, abbreviated catchphrases and keychain Tamagotchis, this new tone struck a chord among Pixar’s first target generation.
Turning Red tells the story of Meilin Lee (voiced by Rosalie Chiang), a 13-year girl torn between her naturally wild nature and being her mother’s obedient little golden child. However, things start taking a turn when little Mei’s hormones inevitably kick in, leading her into a rebellious world of self-discovery. But as if adolescence wasn’t confusing enough, Meilin inherits a unique genetic quirk; whenever she feels any intense emotion, she shapeshifts into a giant red panda! As Pixar Ceo, Pete Doctor, describes, “a bit like the Incredible Hulk but cuter.”
One of the first things that really sticks out about this film is Pixar’s change-up in style. First of all, the animation quality is stunning – but that’s always been kind of a given with Pixar. However, instead of some of the photo-realistic details that have become a familiar part of Pixar scenery, Turning Red has a notably different vibe. Preceded by Enrico Casarosa’s Luca and its studio-Ghibli inspired animation, the sneak peeks we saw in the Turning Red trailer didn’t seem like a particularly far departure from its predecessor in terms of aesthetic. However, seeing the movie in full, it’s safe to say that the trailer barely scratches the surface of Turning Red’s distinctive visuals. This movie plays on the hyper-emotional chaos of adolescence using its animation, conveying intense feelings through amplified expressions and brief moments of wacky metaphor. Strikingly reminiscent of Japanese anime, the visuals play on character traits and turmoils in colourful ways that have yet to be seen in any other Pixar film, doing an excellent job at depicting the inner-chaos of teenhood.
While the nostalgia factor paired with over-exaggerated, almost anime-esque aesthetics are the initial standout features of the movie, Turning Red harbours a much deeper meaning underneath the overtly wacky misadventures of our wild protagonists. Most people will probably remember the wonderfully memorable Pixar short, Bao, also directed by Domee Shi. A distinctly cultural short film about growing up with strict, Chinese parents, told from the unique perspective of the mother figure, it presented a unique blend of a niche situation that simultaneously crosses into the universal. And now, as Domee Shi’s feature film debut, Turning Red strikes a very similar tone. Touching on similar topics, the relationship between Meilin and her overprotective mother, Ming, is culturally relevant while also depicting universal mother-daughter struggles.
One thing that struck me about Turning Red’s depiction of life as a pre-teen girl was its lack of fear to be candid. Unlike the regular, over glamorised depictions, Turning Red touches on the less peppy but equally important moments for young girls crossing the threshold into womanhood. Unapologetic of its exploration into issues faced by women in their pubescent phase, it is a stand-out film for young girls, not just in the Pixar catalogue but across the board. In a world of toxic, glamorised and sexually inclined media, it’s rare to find a genuinely healthy depiction of female adolescence.
Among the wonderful cast, unique visual appeal and impressively mature undertones, the one let-down feature of the movie is its predictability. With the general premise falling into the standard transformation trope, the film offers very little in terms of surprise factor. From start to finish, the progression of the overarching plot was pretty easy to guess.
That said, Turning Red is definitely worth a look! A healthy dose of slapstick and social commentary, the distinctive visual appeal, mature yet humorous dialogue, and impeccable cast make for a wonderfully memorable movie with all the complexities of familial bonds at its core. Not to mention one massive blast from the past if you happened to be a 90s/2000s kid!
Have you seen Turning Red? What do you think of Pixar’s new take? Let us know your thoughts in the comment section below!