“Turning Red”: Making Coming-of-Age Stories Look Easy!


Courtesy of https://www.bbc.com/culture/article/20220307-turning-red-review-hilarious-life-affirming-new-pixar

JD Jones, Arts & Entertainment

Coming-of-age stories have been the backbone of the animated movies Pixar has released. Maybe not all of them, but several have touched on childhood innocence and adulthood, often juxtaposing the two and producing some of the most empathetic cinematic experiences to date. The studio’s latest, a film called “Turning Red”, follows in those footsteps.

Directed by Domee Shi, “Turning Red” follows Mei Lee (Rosalie Chiang), a girl who turns into a huge red panda whenever she gets overly excited. As this happens, she struggles to balance the expectations of her mother (Sandra Oh) and the experiences she wants to have with her friends, specifically going to a concert with a hit boy band! Hitting Disney+ on March 11, “Turning Red ” was loved by a majority of critics, who enjoyed the characters and message of the coming-of-age story. Mainstream viewers were a little bit more divided, but the film still streamed in 2.5 million U.S. households over its opening weekend, which is the most for any original Disney+ title!

I was a little apprehensive going into “Turning Red”, not necessarily because I don’t trust Pixar, but just because I wasn’t sure I’d be able to connect to the story. I also wasn’t sure about the animation’s combination of 2-D and anime visuals, which looked alright, but not as good as something like “Luca” or “Soul”, which felt more consistent in their stylings. However, I was completely wrong! Almost immediately, something clicked with me and the style of “Turning Red”. It was bold, expressive, and unafraid, something that a lot of recent Pixar has done, but it felt distinctive.

 The film is set in 2002 Toronto, more specifically in a primarily Asian community. Since this is a personal environment to her,  Domee Shi has no issue in taking us in and absorbing us into the world. Mei daydreams with her friends, and they have that sort of ridiculous vibe about them, at which you can’t help but smile. Mei’s actress, Rosalie Chiang, does a fantastic job as the lead (in her feature film debut no less)!Oftentimes in films like this, characters who are in middle school tend to be a bit annoying or cringey. Chiang is neither of those. She is adorable, complex, funny, and most importantly, relatable. The red panda transformation as a metaphor for puberty lends itself to some hilarious hijinks, but also leads to many touching moments about growing up. It’s not necessarily new ground to explore, but it’s handled with a deft sense of maturity, and even though that part wasn’t relatable to me, other parts of Mei’s journey did strike a chord with me, such as not living up to expectations, or wanting to make everyone else so happy that you forget about yourself. Domee Shi is very intelligent with the themes here, and even though this film may have a slightly narrower focus in its target audience, there still something for everyone, even someone like me, an 18-year-old dude who has kind of gotten over the majority of the puberty cycle.

With its great world building, excellent themes, and great lead performances, I truly believe that “Turning Red” will be remembered as one of the best films in Pixar’s history. I truly loved every second of its unique retelling of the classic coming-of-age tropes, and I’d even say it’s one of the best overall movies I’ve seen in a very long time! It’s a shame it never got a true theatrical release, but I know that no matter what, the people this film represents, and other people who are looking for some quirky and fun depictions of growing up will cherish this!