Despite being relegated to Disney+ for its recent releases, Pixar Animation Studios under Pete Docter has centered new voices and struck out into new styles. TURNING RED is a seminal example of the new Pixar, marking the feature debut of Domee Shi (Bao). A universal story told through her personal lens, TURNING RED continues the Pixar tradition of ripping your heart out, putting it back together and lovingly shoving it back inside of you.
RED opens at a breakneck pace and almost never lets up as we meet precocious middle schooler Meilin (Rosalie Chiang). Meilin is a model student and a perfect child, the sole focus of her perfectly put together mother, Ming (Sandra Oh).
Like most middle schoolers, Meilin is living a bit of a double life. She’s one way with her friends – fast talking, in love with boyband 4*Town, sassy – and one way with her parents – docile, obedient, perfect. It doesn’t take long for her two worlds to collide when a mysterious curse rears its head and turns Meilin into a Hulk-style red panda.
This is the first Pixar film I’ve ever seen that made me uncomfortable at times, and that’s just because of the sheer cringe that accompanies being 13. I remember it so well, and seeing Meilin go through those same awkward obstacle courses and fall into pothole after pothole hit very close to home. I assume not everyone had a super awkward and difficult middle school life, and to those people, I say congratulations, you dodged a bullet.
If anything small kids might get antsy here; this movie is not for them. But then again, the unique pastel style and flashes of anime-esque action may keep their attention (not to mention the big red panda parts). TURNING RED earns its PG rating. Who among us didn’t spend hours sketching pictures of their crush in a notebook that they shoved under their bed when a parent walked by? And who among us didn’t sketch them as merpeople? If this kind of weird teen hormonal stuff doesn’t resonate with you, I can’t help you.
The mersketch precedes one of the best sequences in the film, where Ming goes absolutely postal on the crush in question. Over and over again I was wowed by Shi’s choices. Even small moments in the film feel visceral because of how Shi stages each scene and the visual styling that puts them over the top.
The film’s climax illustrates a generational divide that in most cases can’t be overcome, and I’m not sure how I feel about where everyone landed. As a new parent whose daughter is still several years away from 13, RED prompted a lot of reflection (and yes, planning. It’s never too early!).
The cast further elevates the winning material. Chiang is charming as Meilin (and she was hired as a vocal stand-in before being promoted to the part). Oh is, as always, top notch, giving a thrilling performance as supermom Ming. Ava Morse, Hyein Park, and Maitreyi Ramakrishnan are hysterical as Meilin’s BFF posse. Always a joy to hear James Hong’s voice, still killing it at 93. Orion Lee is a calming presence as supportive dad Jin. Fans of Walt Disney World’s late Happily Ever After fireworks show will be excited to hear Jordan Fisher as the lead singer of Meilin’s favorite boyband, 4*Town.
It’s a shame TURNING RED won’t be in theaters across the country, but such is life in 2022 and it deserves to become a big, fat streaming hit. Catch it this today on Disney+, or make a special trip to the El Capitan Theater to see it on the big screen.
See it for Yourself
TURNING RED makes its debut on Disney+ March 11, 2022.