“Turning Red” is directed by Domee Shi, who also directed “Bao,” one of the more memorable Pixar shorts. This film stars Rosalie Chiang, Sandra Oh, Ava Morse, Hyein Park, Maitreyi Ramakrishnan, Orion Lee, Wai Ching Ho, Tristan Allerick Chen, and James Hong in a film about a young girl named Meilin Lee whose life and connection with those around her begins to turn upside down as soon as she transforms into a giant red panda.
Pixar is one of the best studios ever created, and I am honestly saddened to see what is becoming of them. And it is not the studio’s fault, it is instead the faults of Disney themselves, who happen to be putting their movies straight to Disney+. I could kind of understand it for “Soul,” because it was a good way to boost subscribers, it was free, unlike “Mulan,” and COVID-19 was incredibly rampant. “Luca” suffered the same fate months later for similar reasons, although I honestly think it would have done semi-decently in theaters if marketed well enough. After all, Pixar movies usually end up being some of the bigger hits of the summer. So I was disappointed to see that one go straight to streaming as well, even if it ended up being my least favorite movie from the studio. I was optimistic that Disney would not do the same for “Turning Red,” whose trailers I saw in theaters, and have enjoyed. …In theaters. Turns out, that’s not the case.
So I went to California to go see this film in a theater. That was not the main intention of why I went there, but that was something I happened to do while I was visiting. I look back on “Soul,” which to me, is an inferior Pixar title, and think it would have been cool to see it in theaters because the music would have sounded graceful through high-quality surround sound. Now that I HAVE seen “Turning Red” in a theater, part of me almost questions how this did not get a wider release. Because there are select parts that had my attention, especially at the end, that would have been nowhere near as enhanced had I watched this movie at home.
But as for the movie itself, I want to point out that the last two Pixar films, “Soul” and “Luca” are currently my least favorites they have done. Thankfully, “Turning Red” does not join those ranks. I would put it in the same caliber as maybe “Ratatouille,” a movie a really enjoyed, but also acknowledge is not maybe my favorite or least favorite. Again, Pixar is a great studio, and even with what I said about “Luca,” the film is still in the positive range for me. Their batting average is one of the best in regards to studios working today. It reminds me of Marvel Studios, except that they have a few movies that disappointed me and I would consider to be in the negative. When it comes to entertaining a massive amount of people, and not just giving the bare minimum when it comes to that, Pixar knows exactly what they’re doing. And getting Domee Shi to tell her story is a part of that.
One of my favorite Pixar movies is “Inside Out,” partially because of how emotionally satisfying it is by the end of it, but also partially because of how perfect of a metaphor it is for entering adolescence. Similar to “Inside Out,” “Turning Red” almost comes off as a metaphor for puberty, and I am kind of amazed that Pixar even decided to execute a movie like this because I think some adults will look at this and wonder if kids should even be watching it. Disney movies have sometimes been known for their dark turns in the story, especially when a member of the family dies. I will keep spoilers of “Turning Red” to a minimum, because I do recommend it, but the parts that may be the least kid-friendly are the moments that reflect the coming of age or growing up of our main character. If anything, I would say that this movie is almost a secret sequel to “Inside Out,” because if you remember that movie’s ending, it’s like we took one fraction from that film’s ending and made a feature-length story on what happens next.
This movie has a reference to “stripper music!” A kids movie!
The main characters of “Turning Red” make every other character in a Pixar film from Lightning McQueen to Mike Wazowski look completely silent and innocent. And by the main characters, I mean the teenage girls. Mei, Abby, Miriam, and Priya. I feel like watching them with their emphasized expressions and emotions not only highlight the chemistry they have with each other, but I felt like there were select scenes that highlight emotions from them that either would only reflect them at their current age or would highlight maybe the stereotyped awkwardness, perhaps even grossness, that comes with puberty. There are select facial expressions in this film that are off the wall cartoony to the point where there’s almost no real life replica for them.
In fact, not only does this film feature some of traditions of Pixar when it comes to their animation style with highly detailed, computerized 3D, which looks as impressive as usual. But there is also a bit of a Japanese anime style to this film as well, and it is fully embraced with FLASHY moments sprinkled every bit in between, poppy, bright colors, and I would even say the climax and its inner-workings feel like something out of an anime at times. But despite this film’s animated look, there is one moment, I will not say when, that something came onto the screen, and my jaw literally dropped at the sight of it because of how real it looked. Pixar is easily my favorite studio for animated movies, and part of it is not only because of their fun stories that bring joy and occasional tears, but also the effort that has been put into the film’s design. 2019’s “Toy Story 4” has one of the most surprisingly realistic looking shots I have seen of a cat in animation history. I think I just saw something equal to, if not greater than that.
“Turning Red” is Pixar doing what Pixar does best, because I often look at films from studios like Illumination and Dreamworks Animation and think to myself that despite their occasional enjoyability here and there, they almost dumb themselves down too much for the children who are inevitably going to be watching it because there are things happening on screen. Pixar does not do that. They feel like the wisest studio of them all. I almost feel like Pixar, when it comes to animation in the United States at least, is the thinking man’s animation studio. Disney Animation has a childlike spirit despite its darker themes. DreamWorks has its moments of maturity, but also resorts to immature jokes here and there. Illumination… My god. “Turning Red” seems to have a childlike spirit, but that is a compliment on the movie’s part because I feel like animation is, bar none, the perfect medium for something like this. I have seen images on the Internet of the film before it came out or just around release time regarding certain individuals refusing to watch this film because of the way it looked.
Okay. Now, film is subjective, not every movie is for everyone, but I will say if they did this film in live action, I think that they would have to change A LOT. Maybe some of the hyperactive writing could stay, but the expressions of the characters would not pop as much as it does here. I would love to see more of what Domee Shi does with her character and potentially what she can do with another directorial effort at Pixar. I think she and maybe Pete Docter (and Brad Bird should they make “Incredibles 3”) are the names I will await with eager anticipation in terms of when their next project arrives.
At the end of the day, this film is not just about someone who turns into a panda and lets all sorts of shenanigans unfold, it is about the struggles of growing up, the struggles of friendship, the struggles of family. At some point in these aspects, it is tough to maintain trust between one side and another. Sometimes you cannot please your parents because you want to please your friends. Sometimes you may not agree with everything your parents say, because maybe from their view, maybe they want the best for you. Their response could be somewhat justified, but in a case like this, the child may be significantly let down because they have wanted something so bad that it is all they think about. This took me back to a time when I was younger and I would ask my parents if I could play a slate of M rated video games. By the way, I played a ton of “Team Fortress 2” as a young teen. TURNED OUT FINE. The movie presents a similar case with 4 Town, a boy band who happens to be performing in Toronto. The girls want to go to the concert together, and the parents obviously want to interfere. From their point of view, they think the music is kind of ridiculous and think an event like this could be potentially harmful. But for the girls, this is practically their whole life. From the girls’ point of view, they almost see this as a part of growing up, which is part of what the movie’s about.
This film maintains a great lesson for children and adults. When I watch family movies or movies that are in the animated medium, I often note the lesson that they tend to provide for the children watching, it’s mainly intended for them. But I feel like a parent could watch this movie and take something from it too. It’s that good. It’s that effective. I highly recommend this movie to anyone and I wish it had a theatrical release.
The film also has a post-credits scene. For those who want to watch the movie, do not pause when the credits roll, there is more.
In the end, “Turning Red” is wonderful movie. It is not my favorite Pixar film, but it is funny, charming, and fast-paced. While there definitely are some moments in this film that try to go for the emotions, this may be a somewhat easier watch for some people than some of Pixar’s other fare in recent years like “Inside Out” or “Coco,” because films like those often seemingly attempt to make people cry. “Turning Red” starts off as cheerful fun and ends that way. If you want a joyful, happy go lucky film with some conflict, I highly recommend this picture. The main character of Mei is wonderful and brilliantly voiced by Rosalie Chiang. I would love to see more from the “Turning Red” property, and I am going to give it an 8/10.
Also, big shoutout to Sandra Oh. Her resume from an animation perspective has been fire lately. She was in “Over the Moon,” “Raya and the Last Dragon,” and now this. She is making some great choices lately.
“Turning Red” is now available on Disney+ for free as long as you are a subscriber.
Thanks for reading this review! Speaking of reading, if you like reading things for a very very long time, you will LOVE the 4th Annual Jackoff Awards! The awards were held on March 27th, but if you want to read the show now, here is an opportunity! Find out which 2021 films win’s Jacks awards! Should we do a fifth awards show, my next movie I am reviewing will probably not make it. Ladies and gentlemen, my next review… Is… Morbius.
Let’s get this overwith.
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