By Jack Deegan
Pixar has been on a roll recently. The most popular animation studio in the world has been dominating the industry for years, proving time and time again why they’re so successful. Their newest and 25th animated film “Turning Red,” directed by Domee Shi, was just released on Disney+ on March 11, giving us another important story with beautiful animation.
The film follows the 13-year-old Mei Lee (Rosalie Chiang), a Chinese-Canadian student trying to balance the obedient daughter her mother wants her to be, and the fun chaotic person she really is. Oh, and she also turns into a giant red panda when she loses control of her emotions.
At its core, “Turning Red” is a coming-of-age story that uses the red panda as a metaphor for puberty. We watch Mei grow up and struggle with her life and the choices she makes. Her mother (Sandra Oh) has different plans for her and wants her to be someone she’s not because that was how she was taught. Mei wants her mother’s approval more than anything, but she also wants to be herself and not be forced to act like someone she’s not. Mei and her friends couldn’t be more different than what her mother envisioned for her and she has a hard time showing her mom that side of herself.
On top of all that, she now has to deal with spontaneously turning into a giant red panda when she loses control of her emotions due to an ancient family curse. The usage of the giant red panda is a really important part of that coming of age story because of how it represents Mei growing up and going through puberty. Her mother is firmly against the panda and wants everything to stay the same as much as possible, and Mei struggles a lot with deciding what is best for her. The movie’s focus on Chinese culture is a very welcomed idea and gives a new story to audiences with wonderful representation in Pixar’s first Asian-led film.
One of the strongest aspects of the film is the characters, which is no surprise when it comes to Pixar. Mei is a great and fully fleshed-out protagonist who the audience is able to relate to. One thing that was really nice to see was a young teenager actually acting like a young teenager. Her struggle is something that a lot of people have been through and both sides of her life are given so much depth. What makes this story work so well is the bond and relationship between Mei and her mother. Despite their differences in opinion over Mei’s lifestyle, they still have a very strong relationship. They don’t hate each other and they both have reasonable motives for what they want. While Mei just wants to be herself and to live life her own way, her mother is struggling with her inability to let go and let her daughter grow up. Their relationship is at the center of the movie and is handled in a very loving way that makes it all the more believable.
With Pixar there’s always that guarantee of amazing animation that comes with all of their movies, and “Turning Red” is no different. The animation style is very unique and shows Pixar’s technical prowess to keep reinventing their style with animation that represents the movie itself. In “Turning Red,” the animation is done in a very expressive way. This works really well because of how expressive teens are, and the animation reflects that. The character designs are all really interesting and they look unique and memorable, which is essential. One of my favorite things about the animation style was how vibrant all of the colors were. It was so pleasing to look at, and it made the already stylish animation pop even more.
Pixar’s “Turning Red” is a beautifully animated movie with a powerful message told in a fresh and exciting way that embraces Chinese culture. It’s not only a great piece of representation, but it’s a message that everyone needs to hear.