Cert – PG, Run-time – 1 hour 40 minutes, Director – Domee Shi
13 year old Meilin (Rosalie Chiang) is going through the standard changes that come with growing up, however her outgoing confidence is shattered when a generational ‘blessing’ causes her to turn into a giant red panda whenever she gets emotional or overexcited.
As we’re introduced to the unashamedly herself Meilin Lee (Rosalie Chiang), it’s clear that the 13 year old protagonist of Pixar’s latest is overflowing with confidence. An outgoing personality who is ready to take the challenges and effects of growing up head on, it’s all part of her plan. Yet, despite containing a couple of dashes of humour – “and I will not hesitate to do a spontaneous cartwheel if I feel so moved” – the outgoing declarations of Meilin’s pride and confidence in herself in this introduction began to bring to mind thoughts of whether this attitude can be stretched over 90+ minutes without wearing thin and beginning to get somewhat irritating. It echoes a style that was contained within the trailers for this film, one which certainly gave me some initial concern.
How glad I am to have been proved so wrong so quickly. It appears that this was all part of the plan of the film. As co-writer (alongside Julia Cho) and director Domee Shi – who was behind the studio’s wonderful short Boa a few years ago – explores Meilin’s world shattering around her when the changes in life bring about a generational blessing turned “inconvenience” in the form of her transforming into an eight foot tall red panda every time she gets emotional or overexcited. It’s something that can easily be reversed, but in a month’s time with a ritual under the next red moon. Until then Meilin must learn to stay calm and control her inner panda, while riding the perilous tracks of crushes, her favourite boyband performing in town and school bullies. It’s a hazardous road and one which can easily be driven off, especially as Meilin tries to do her won thing in defiance of her usual family dedication, worrying and angering her concerned and uncertain mother (Sandra Oh) at each turn.
As a studio Pixar have become noted for their use of animation and fantastical elements and worlds to translate various themes and ideas to audiences of all ages – Inside Out and its point about necessary sadness is perhaps the biggest standout here – and while Turning Red certainly contains this it also tackles certain themes much more directly. Topics such as periods and mood swings are clearly displayed and simply treated as a fact of life, and indeed help to emphasise the ideas and points about growing up that the film holds so high. The narrative itself is fairly simplistic, following Meilin as she tackles with her panda form and the blessings and curses that it brings to her at this stage in her life, yet it all allows for the themes to lift the piece up and draw the viewer in to form a connection with the piece.
All helped further by the humour that is derived from a number of situations. While you certainly feel the shock and pure embarrassment of certain moments – particularly an early scene where Meilin’s mother confronts a seventeen year old convenience store worker her daughter appears to have a crush on, as if noone else is in the shop – there’s no denying just how much comedy there is throughout the film. This is perhaps Pixar’s funniest film to date, holding plenty of laugh out loud moments in most scenes and montages.
Yet, perhaps the thing that speaks mostly loudly about Turning Red is just who it appears to be speaking to. While Pixar have always catered to a family audience and worked on different levels for different ages – again, see Inside Out – here there are plenty of scenes which are clearly speaking directly to those of Meilin’s age. As if saying to them that it will indeed be alright in the end both individually and with family, even being set in 2002 – acting as something somewhat semi-autobiographical for Shi, although perhaps she didn’t literally turn into a giant red panda as part of a centuries old family (initially) blessing – helps push this idea. Although, none of this is ever shouted.
It’s all conveyed within everything that the film provides and does with its themes and ideas, which help to lift it up and do the most speaking on the various levels that the film products. Still containing the family-leaning moments of fantasy brought to life by fine animation, as has become expected from the studio, especially after the last decade or so. There’s quite a bit being juggled amongst Turning Red’s slightly stripped-back narrative, but it allows for the themes to speak more, particularly with an interesting edge for Pixar of speaking more directly about certain points to certain audience members. And it manages to hit it out of the park rather well.
Perhaps the studio’s funniest film to date, Turning Red signifies Pixar talking in a more direct manner, amongst their usual fantastical-tinted story and message telling, to a particular audience. It works and provides a slightly new view and angle for them that should bring everyone in for a solid 100 minutes.