Turning Red review

By Julien Rodger

Contains minor spoilers

From the start of Turning Red it’s clear the setting will make it feel unique. Instead of it just relying on being animated film about an Asian family to stand out, it’s also set in Toronto in 2002, clearly inspired by the director Domee Shi’s own life. The early 2000s shows in the fashion and technology such as Tamuguchis, but most of all in the lead character Mei and friend’s obsession with the boyband 4*Town. The boyband jokes are entertaining such as Mei’s mom questioning why they’re called that when they have 5 members, to only three of the members feeling like real stars and the other two being somewhat along for the ride. At the same time thanks to a catchy song in “Nobody like U” and genuine affection by its characters, by the time of the final concert I wanted it to go on a little longer for the sake of their fans instead of being inevitably interrupted by the film’s climax.

The central conflict is between Mei and her strict mother Ming, with the metaphor of Mei turning into a red panda every time she’s emotional, whereas her mother advocates repression, a theme Disney has used well in other films such as Frozen. Ming goes too far criticizing and controlling Mei and increasingly becomes the antagonist, but at the same time one can believe why she has this perspective. After all while repressing herself may have led to her own deep rooted unhappiness, it’s allowed her to be a reliable member to her family and society instead of the burden her giant panda once was, and on the whole she’s been able to build a good life as did her previous generations. At the same time she struggles to see the resentment the sacrifices she’s had to made and how she’s taking it out on Mei. By the time Mei finally reaches the real Ming inside, despite the mistakes she’s made there is a sense she is not so far gone to be irredeemable. At the same time they let Ming make the opposite choice of Mei of locking away her panda, showing that for her the repressed dutiful version is what she’s chosen to be, much like Mei has chosen to live more wild by letting out the panda regularly.

As referenced in the movie, Turning Red’s panda is some sort of version of a werewolf. Much like how a film like Teen Wolf uses musical montages, the boyband comes in handy again as one of the most enjoyable sequences of the film is a montage set to 4*Town where the girls are raising money by letting people play with or take pictures with Mei’s panda form. Unlike other monster movies where people would be scared of their monster version or try to kill it once the person transforms, it’s reversed in this film as they like the panda representing Mei’s inner fun loving self even more than her stuffy good grades version, whereas the person unaccepting of it is at home in Mei’s mother. That Mei’s panda is so popular and her barely pre-teen age only barely dipping into interest in boys, perhaps makes it less relatable as a high school movie, but the real story of the film is meant to be between Mei and her family. With the panda representing strong emotions instead of her period, the film also never feels so specific to a girl going through puberty that it locks out any males from being able to relate to it.

Like other great Pixar movies of the past, Turning Red is both an enjoyable romp on the surface allowing younger ages to enjoy it, but has enough themes such as relationship with one’s family and whether to repress yourself for others or to let it out, that it’s easy to connect with as an adult as well.

4.5 out of 5 stars

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