Making its debut today is the latest movie from Pixar Animation Studios. The movie is Turning Red – a coming-of-age fantasy feature, about a teenage girl who transforms into a giant red panda.
In the movie, Mei is a 13-year-old Chinese-Canadian girl, who lives with her parents in Toronto. The year is 2002, and when she is not helping her mother with chores, Mei spends her days having fun with her school friends, obsessing over popular boy band 4*Town, and dreaming about a boy called Devon.
But when Mei’s mother learns of her interest in Devon, she interferes, causing a great deal of embarrassment to her daughter. That night, Mei goes to bed, upset and frustrated about the incident, suffering a nightmare in the process.
When she wakes up the next morning, Mei is horrified to discover that during the night her appearance has changed dramatically, with her body taking on the form of a fluffy, giant red panda. The change seems to be caused by emotions, with Mei transforming from panda back to human, when she calms down.
But this is no chance occurrence, and Mei soon learns the transformation is the result of an ancient family ritual, which has just been triggered. It can be cured, but not for another month, and only if Mei can keep her transformations in check.
If Mei gives into her emotions, she will continue to flip between animal and human form. But can she maintain control for the next few weeks, or is she destined to become a giant red panda forever?
Directed by Domee Shi, Turning Red features the vocal talents of Rosalie Chiang, Sandra Oh and Wai Ching Ho. The movie is available to stream on Disney+ from today, and is a delightful, well-written feature, filled with humour.
The movie takes the real-life trauma of adolescence, puberty, and teenage angst, and uses these subjects to form the back bone of this story. Mei’s red panda transformations become a metaphor for the changes that teens find themselves going through in life, and Mei’s journey is very much one of self-discovery.
Of course, because she is a teen, holding in all her emotions is practically impossible, and the film looks at the ways in which she is tested on a seemingly day-to-day basis. Minor incidents become major dramas, and for Mei the slightest thing can act as a trigger.
While the concept of turning into an animal may not be something that any of us have experience in, the message conveyed in Turning Red is easily relatable. I’m sure we all recall our teenage years, and how we flew off the handle at a moment’s notice, and this is perfectly expressed in this film.
With Turning Red, Pixar manages to say so much about this period in life, through such a simple concept. It is one which adults will understand all too well, while those going through their teen years right now will identify with completely.
As for the even younger audiences, the film offers a cuddly panda, some fun pop songs, and lots of laughs. This is a movie which works for all ages, with Pixar once again hitting the correct notes, to deliver a story for the whole family.
Now I know what you’re thinking, hasn’t Disney and Pixar already covered this ‘animal transformation’ thing before, via Brother Bear (2003) and Brave (2012)? Well, yes, but Turning Red takes a different path and the end result is something which feels fresh.
The movie also benefits from the latest advances in animation, with Turning Red looking truly stunning. The marvellous cast work their magic too, with Rosalie Chiang putting in a great performance as Mei, while Sandra Oh steals the movie as Mei’s overprotective mother.
And then there’s the movie’s setting: The year 2002. By placing the film twenty years in the past, in an age of bubblegum pop stars, Tamagotchis, and disposable cameras, the film feels a lot more carefree and less depressing than the hell-zone we are currently living through.
The early ‘00s was a more innocent era, and the opportunity to rewind the clock to this time period is very welcome – especially now. You want a way to switch off from 2022? Then here’s your escape route.
Turning Red is a highly enjoyable, bright and colourful, playful and delightful movie. The film manages to capture all the feelings of being a teenager, back when parents seemed like the world’s greatest enemy, and is a bright and breezy, yet incredibly well thought out picture.
If you have teenagers in your household, push them in front of the telly, switch on Turning Red, and let them come to their own conclusions about the message of the film. And if you don’t have kids, don’t worry, grab some popcorn, watch Turning Red, and be reminded of your youth.