“I accept and embrace all labels.”Mei Lee (voice of Rosalie Chiang) in “Turning Red”
Those old enough to remember watching the original “Teen Wolf” when it was released in 1985 will certainly draw parallels to Pixar’s upcoming release TURNING RED, but this narrative certainly stands out on its own.
The first Pixar feature to have an entirely female leadership team, “Turning Red” tackles the hope, naivete and angst of being a teenager, the collective strength in “girl power,” and the healing that comes from acceptance and balance.
Mei Lee is a typical 13-year-old – dealing with crushes, love of boy bands and hanging with close friends – who isn’t the most popular in her school but is comfortable and confident in her lane (note the quote above). She’s also mostly accepted the role of conscientious and compliant daughter to her parents – especially her overbearing mother Ming (voice of veteran actress Sandra Oh).
Unfortunately, her “typical” lifestyle is interrupted by her newfound ability to turn into a giant red panda – sending her on a whirlwind course to find out how and why amidst the very common teen crises she’s already experiencing.
Academy Award-winning director/co-screenwriter Domee Shi (Pixar short Bao) and co-screenwriter Julia Cho, with a story by credit for Sarah Streicher, weave a highly relatable struggle – learning how to manage emotions while facing challenging obstacles – into a family friendly romp that hits more marks than it misses.
The CGI is created with such vibrance and realism that the characters and items appear to almost jump off the screen – and I may or may not have drooled during a food preparation scene!
I also really enjoyed how emotive the characters were in their expressions, especially Mei Lee and her friends when they do an impromptu performance of a song by their favorite band “4-Town.” It really took me back to a carefree, young teen space – where I’m dancing with friends to a favorite song while hanging out.
And speaking of “4-Town,” Grammy winning singer/songwriter Billie Eilish and her singer/songwriter brother Finneas contribute three new catchy songs for the fictional group, while Swedish composer Ludwig Göransson (Black Panther, The Mandalorian) adds his magic to the film’s score. There are also some fun song placements like Destiny Child’s “Bootylicious” and DJ Casper’s “Cha Cha Slide” that add playful energy to the narrative.
There were times, if I’m being honest, that I felt the story was too silly but quickly reminded myself that it was a family film with an unstable teenager who turns into a panda as the protagonist – in other words, too silly really doesn’t apply Thomasena!
I think that’s the crux of offering constructive criticism on these types of films – making sure you keep the intended audiences in mind as you do so.
At its finest, the film delivers on capturing the chaotic nature of adolescence combined with the pressures that come from loved ones – both familial and friend – and in doing so will be relatable to many. And I laughed out loudly during several scenes while watching, especially during “the” classroom scene. Trust me, you’ll know it when you see it!
However, I did feel the story was a little bloated and a bit haphazard in its resolution. Yet, it certainly won’t stop me from adding this one to the queue for a rewatch when it premieres this weekend. I rate it 3.5 out of 5 on the MMTrometer.
TURNING RED premieres Friday, March 11 on Disney+.
And let me add just one more thing. I am so sick of reading critiques that state something is being or trying to be “too diverse.” I’ve read that criticism of this film and what does that even mean?! How does ensuring your film looks like the “real world” impact its ability to be good or great? I want some critics to just state they want shows and films to not be representative of all races and be done. Stop hiding your prejudices behind the guise of being “constructive.” It’s not, we see you, it’s just racist. End of Ted Talk.
Until next thought, Thomasena