The Reel Review
Turning Red is Disney Pixar’s animated, coming of age comedy/fantasy about Mei, a gleefully dorky, 13-year-old living in Toronto’s Chinatown, who one morning awakens to a startling discovery – that when she has a burst of emotion, she turns into a giant red panda.
This cute, double entendre riff on puberty, from Oscar-winning animated short film director Domee Shi (Bao), focuses on Mei (Rosalie Chiang) reconciling the expectations of her domineering, control-freak mother (Sandra Oh) with her own burgeoning individuality. Does Mei follow her mom and other female elders and go through with an elaborate ancient Chinese ritual to rid herself of the alter ego, or does she “release the panda” and join her friends at a music concert?
Set in 2002, Turning Red is chocked full of fun, early 2000s kitsch – tamagotchi, a wonderfully insipid, inexplicably five-member boy band called 4*Town, and glassy-eyed anime at the site of anything super cute, like a box of kittens. The story’s family expectations angle is reminiscent of 2021’s Encanto, and similarly, the visually dazzling story starts to sputter out of gas by its bloated, predictable ending. Still, Turning Red an entertaining entry in Pixar’s lexicon, giving refreshing visibility into Chinese Canadian culture while also destigmatizing periods, puberty and all of the complex emotions associated with them.
• Turning Red is the first Disney Pixar film directed by a woman of color.
• This is the third Pixar film released directly on Disney+, after 2020’s Soul and 2021’s Luca. Encanto, which was released exclusivity in theaters in November 2021, had a mediocre box office performance, but gained in popularity once released on Disney+.