Turning Red is the latest adventure from Pixar Animation Studios, and controversially, their third following, Soul and Luca, to become a Disney+ Original Movie. Turning Red follows Meilin “Mei” Lee, a 13-year-old girl who, one day, finds that whenever she experiences any strong emotion, she transforms into a giant red panda.
After writing, directing and then winning an Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film for Bao (2018), Domee Shi has become the first woman to solely direct a Pixar feature film. Like Bao, Turning Red is built upon the relationship of a Chinese-Canadian family and their traditions, but with a far longer runtime than the 8-minute Bao, Turning Red is able to better encapsulate the importance of these traditions as well as the value of family.
Turning Red had a lot going against it, with a long development time of 4 years and the pandemic forcing animators to work on the movie remotely from home. While it’s not the best movie from Pixar Animation Studios, it’s nowhere near the worst – not by far!
Normalising The Normal
In a sense, Turning Red is one of Pixar’s most realistic films because puberty and womanhood are significant themes. When Mai first transforms into a red panda, and her parents overhear the commotion in the bathroom, Ming Lee (Mei’s overprotective mother) mistakes the drama for Mai getting her first period. She even rushes into the bathroom with dozens of sanitary pads.
Despite not being a woman myself, I thought it was brilliant to see the inclusion of menstruation, which is stigmatised even though most women in the world go through it. It also made perfect sense to include the scene because Mai is at the average age when many girls start their cycle.
To my knowledge, this is the first Disney movie to touch upon menstruation, and of course, Disney isn’t alone in this because I can’t think of any other animated film that mentions the subject. Now I’m not saying that all animated movies need to mention it, but I hope Turning Red helps lead the inclusion of everyday aspects of womanhood in more animated films (and also films in general).
Behind the Scenes
Steller Voice Acting
Pixar Animation Studios continues its successful track record of hiring brilliant actors at voicing animated characters. Newcomer Rosalie Chiang stars as Mei, and I was surprised to learn that this was her first major film role, having appeared in only two short films and two episodes of Clique Wars. Disney doesn’t often rehire child actors for animated movies, but Chiang should be an exception. She is funny, dramatic, and has a fantastic set of lungs for screaming and yelling, so much so that she should lead an animated Disney+ series, not necessarily related to Turning Red.
Sandra Oh plays Mei’s strict mother, Ming Lee, and it’s Sandra Oh – need I say more? Oh is fantastic in everything she touches and Turning Red is no exception. At first, I was fearful that Ming Lee would be a bit too much for me since she is so overprotective, but Sandra Oh helped create a character so manic and silly that Ming Lee never crossed into that territory of being annoying.
We also have Mei’s three best friends, Abby (Hyein Park), Miriam (Ava Morse), and Priya (Maitreyi Ramakrishnan), each of whom is some of the best secondary characters in a Disney film that we’ve had for a while. Park, Morse, and Ramakrishnan bounce lines off each other with Rosalie Chiang, to the point where they sounded like they were best friends off-screen as well as on.
When it comes to the animation, Turning Red takes a page from Pixar’s last movie, Luca, with a style not seen in any of their previous films. Aardman Animation-style is the only way I can describe this new direction Pixar seem to have leant towards with Luca and Turning Red. Both movies suited this style perfectly because it’s traditionally cartoonish. Turning Red’s story of a girl transforming into a giant red panda when she’s emotional fitted brilliantly with this style.
A Film For Everyone
You may have seen some controversial hot takes on Twitter from other critics. A few have stated that they failed to connect to the movie because they didn’t see themselves in the movie.
These complaints came from adult men of a specific demographic, and they seem to be coming from a particular place of ignorance. All I have to say is that if you can relate to princesses and pirates, magical spacefarers fighting an evil empire, or anthropomorphic toys and animals, then you should have no issue relating to at least some aspects of Turning Red.
There’s also the most obvious thing that these critics are missing. Turning Red may follow a young Chinese-Canadian girl; it may feature the topic of puberty and menstruation, but at the end of the day, Turning Red is a coming-of-age movie, something which everyone goes through in some way or another.
Self-acceptance is one of those aspects. We’ve all been there, struggling with how we look or sound, or how others may perceive us. Turning Red is a fantastic allegory for coming to terms with self-identity and how important it is to be as kind to yourself as it is to be kind to others.
Pixar Continues to Excel
This review is short because I didn’t want to spoil any of the surprises, but Turning Red is a great little movie that I think is better suited as a Disney+ Original rather than a theatrical release. But it is still pretty egregious that Disney continues to pull Pixar films from cinemas while supporting Disney Animation Studios. Encanto’s is such a film that comes to mind. While Encanto is a splendid movie, its 1-month theatrical run seemed fairly pointless at the time and even more so once it hit Disney+ on Christmas Eve, where it truly became an international phenomenon.
Disney needs to step up its game to better represent and support their other subsidiary studios because more Disney Animation Studios movies are better suited for streaming than those made by Pixar.