- Directed by Domee Shi
- February 21, 2022 (Everyman Borough Yards) / March 11, 2022 (US)
- Meilin “Mei” Lee-Rosalie Chiang
- Ming Lee-Sandra Oh
- Miriam-Ava Morse
- Abby-Hyein Park
- Priya-Maitreyi Ramakrishnan
- Jin Lee-Orion Lee
- Wu-Wai Ching Ho
- Tyler-Tristan Allerick Chen
- Mr. Gao-James Hong
- Devon-Addie Chandler
- Mr. Kieslowski-Sasha Roiz
- Stacy Frick-Lily Sanfelippo
- Mei’s aunts (Chen, Ping, Helen, and Lily)-Lori Tan Chinn, Lillian Lim, Sherry Cola, and Mia Tagano respectively
- 4*Town (Robaire, Jesse, Aaron Z., Aaron T., and Tae Young)-Jordan Fisher, Finneas O’Connell, Josh Levi, Topher Ngo, and Grayson Villanueva respectively
A young girl learns of her mystical connection to red pandas.
Turning Red appears to be rather controversial though I am at a loss as to explaining why. It is nothing particularly groundbreaking and there is nothing particularly offensive in this film. People desperate for attention are really reaching for something to give their otherwise empty lives meaning. They use a bit of fantasy as an allegory.
Some reviews have been accused of racism. It has apparently also been the center of a small discussion of the possible double standards when it comes to discussing movies. That is a great deal to get kicked up by a CGI film from Pixar.
Our main character of Mei is a rather typical 13-year-old girl. She has a crush on a local kid and is into boy bands. Not to spoil too much but it’s clear that 13-year-old girl Mei turning into a red panda and the immediate aftermath with her mother is really a metaphor for a girl getting her first period. This is even driven home when Mei’s mom Ming embarrasses Mei by trying to give her pads at school and causes another panda outbreak.
Since the panda is a period metaphor it begs the question: is Mei wanting to keep her red panda a poorly executed message at avoiding pregnancy? I think it is no shock to reveal that by the end of the film Mei has decided to live with the thing rather than try and give it up. My thought is a little bit of a reach on my part but I suppose you could think it was a poor attempt at such. After all the red panda is her period. Just a thought I had.
Mei also has to, and I must use modern parlance, grow into herself rather than grow into what her mother wants her to be. She needs to be true to yourself and not what others want her to be. That is something many people struggle with. We cannot and should not grow into what others want because that is living their lives in place of ours. We seek the approval of those we love but it should not mean making ourselves miserable.
In the story of the film, generations ago one of Mei’s ancestors was granted the ability to transform into a giant red panda in order to protect her daughters during a time of turmoil. This ability has been passed down to the women of the family for generations and in the modern world what was once a good thing is a problem.
One thing that really bothered me about this movie was that the narrative essentially says Mei’s mother Ming was wrong for watching her daughter like a hawk. Ming had legitimate reasons to be a helicopter parent even if she was a bit smothering. She was watching Mei to see if her daughter was going to change into a red panda. That seems like something worth being concerned over. Framing it as her being bad for keeping an eye on her daughter seemed wrong on my part. Why is caring about your daughter a bad thing?
And as a parent I do take a little bit of offense (that the right word?) to Mei’s friends being a source of her strength and not Mei’s mother or father. Friends are a better choice for strength and love than family? I’m not saying every family is perfect but this is a complete work of fiction so I think we can have a loving family that the main character can draw strength from.
One plot element that was dropped out of nowhere was how the grandmother disapproved of Mei’s dad. Such a thing is not an uncommon story element but if you are going to use it in in a story then use it a little more. Perhaps in the film do a story that parallels what happened with the mother and grandmother with what is happening with the mother and daughter. Instead this plot element is just used to allude to the size of the mother’s panda.
CGI animation has certainly improved by leaps and bounds since . I imagine in another couple of years I’ll be saying the same thing about another CGI film and how quaint the animation or how poorly the animation in Turning Red has aged. Personally I would’ve liked to of seen this film done with hand-drawn animation. The detail used in movies like Aladdin or Lion King would have really made this something special if it was hand drawn. I’m imagining it in my head that and I feel kind of ripped off at Disney doesn’t do hand drawing anymore.
Issues aside, the story isn’t terribly executed. It has themes of friendship and family and how some issues can be generational in families using the red panda as a metaphor. The daughter needs to break that cycle. That is deeper than some films get these days.
This part of the story comes into the focus when Mei while trying to keep the panda under control plots with her friends to raise money to but tickets to see a boy band against her mother’s wishes. She secretly pimps out the panda form for cash turning her altmode essentially into a party clown for kids. A grand legacy and great power turned into a money making scheme? And the red panda also ties into her religious beliefs? Maybe toss in a little bit about self-respect into the film.
Part of that is being honest with her friends whom at one point she throws under the bus in order to save herself from her mother. Ouch! And they are a loyal group of friends. Again, to use modern parlance, they are her ride or die chicks. Mei learns a lesson in personal integrity.
As you can notice I have some issues with Turning Red but in the end I did enjoy it. It wasn’t groundbreaking or great but it was an hour and a half that I do not feel was wasted time. Kids will like it. Disney fans will like it. I say check it out!