Turning Red Review
For as long as I’ve been alive, there’s always been Pixar. Some of my earliest memories were of watching the original Toy Story on the family VHS, and that love has carried well into my adulthood. However, there came a time when I started to question if their films were getting a little repetitive. I even said in my review of Onward that maybe Pixar should mix things up a little. Then, we got this quirky, amazingly fun, heartwarming movie called Turning Red.
Calling Turning Red a great movie would be an understatement; it is probably the best movie that Pixar’s given us in years. This movie has amazing story to tell about the challenges of growing up, which in and of itself is not unique. What sets this film apart from the normal Pixar film is that the film seems to intentionally break the Pixar Formula. In fact, when you think about it, Turning Red might be a metaphor about the new direction that Pixar wants to take, one where they don’t want to conform so strictly to their old rules.
Growing Up is a Beast
Set in Toronto, Canada at the turn of the new millennium, Turning Red is about Meilin “Mei” Lee, a Chinese-Canadian girl who just turned 13. All her life, she’s tried to be the perfect daughter that her loving, but crazy strict, mom wants her to be. Only, becoming a teenager means discovering new things about yourself and possibly rebelling against your parents. And the night after her Helicopter Mama humiliates her in public, she wakes up…to find she’s a giant, red panda.
From the moment I first saw the teaser, I knew that this was going to be a brilliant concept. A 13-year-old girl going through the stresses of puberty, made only worse by how over the top her Mom’s efforts to protect her are. The red panda is a genius metaphor for how our emotions can run wild at that age, bringing out the beast within. In Mei’s case, quite literally. But whereas some people might treat it like a curse or, as her Mom puts it, “an inconvenience,” Mei comes to realize that it doesn’t have to be.
Growing up can be painful and lead to us doing things that our elders may not approve of, but Mei realizes that she likes the person that she’s turning into. I mean, she can turn into a giant, fluffy red panda at will. That’s a really cool power to have, and everyone her age seems to think so. The only ones taking issue are her elders, specifically her Mom. To her, becoming a red panda was a traumatizing event that stunted her emotional growth, and she can’t understand why her daughter would enjoy it, driving the conflict of the film. Therein lies its brilliance.
Turning Red Breaks the Pixar Formula, and is all the Better for It
Granted, it feels like Pixar did something similar to Turning Red in the form of Brave years ago, what with the feud between the Mother and Daughter. However, it’s different from Brave. In fact, Turning Red is different from almost every Pixar movie that’s preceded it, because it breaks the studio’s MO for universal storytelling.
Pixar rose to the top by telling stories that have universal themes to them that all ages can relate to. Yet Turning Red does the exact opposite, telling a story about a specific group of people, teenage girls, and what they can go through during puberty. It’s not something that everyone can universally can relate to. Yet look on the Internet, and you’ll see almost everyone praising the film for doing this.
Like I said in my Onward review, the Pixar Formula may be losing its luster a little, and the studio should mix things up to stay fresh. In this way, having a film about a specific group of people can be seen as a metaphor for their desire to try new kinds of stories. Stories that don’t conform to the rules set by their elders. When you look at it like that, it only makes Turning Red even more brilliant. It showcases the conflict and resolution of what came before with what the future holds in store.
Definitely a Must-Watch
Whether you’ve been a fan of Pixar since the early days, a parent with kids who will beg you to watch this with them, or just someone who appreciates animation, Turning Red is a movie you shouldn’t sleep on. It’s one of Pixar’s best movies in years, and one that I will want to go back and watch several times over. I highly recommend watching it on Disney+, you guys. If this is the new direction Pixar wants to take, then I think their future’s looking bright.