Originally set to be a theatrical release, Disney pivoted to releasing Pixar’s latest film, Turning Red, on Disney+ due to fears over the Omicron variant. The move naturally frustrated many of the cast and crew who worked on the film, expecting it to hit the big screen. But Turning Red is out and available without having to pay extra for it, so you may be wondering if the latest from Pixar is worth the watch.
Turning Red is the story of Mei, a thirteen-year-old girl of Chinese-Canadian living in Toronto circa 2002. Under the watchful eye of her mother, Mei aims to exceed at everything while seeking her approval. Straight A student, part-time worker at the family temple, ace musician, Mei can do it all but she’s also considered something of a weirdo for being so determined to be the best. But her three friends embrace the weirdness and bond over their love of 4*Town, a fictional boy-band of the day that heavily invoked Backstreet Boys and *Nsync, music that her mother would find disgusting and degenerate. But along with her taste in music, Mei is also growing up and changing. She likes boys (gasp!).
Mei tries desperately to be the “perfect daughter” for the sake of her mother, but that’s a lot of stress to put on a kid. It’s at this time at the red panda of Mei’s family’s history takes form and fuses with Mei. Whenever she’s in a heightened emotional state, whether it be positive or negative, she transforms into a giant red panda. The ancient blessing, or a curse depending on how you look at it, can be undone permanently on a blood moon and thankfully, there’s one in just a few weeks. But the more Mei transforms, the harder it will be to break free of the Panda.
When it comes to Pixar movies, I always tend to think that there are two Pixars. One is the A-team, which can hit you in the emotions and give you a story that will stay with you forever. Films like Finding Nemo, Toy Story and 2020’s Soul fit this bill. Then there’s the Pixar B-team. This ranges from good to so-so caliber content. Last year’s Luca (wait I didn’t review Luca??), Cars and Onwards would be an example of these kinds of films, those which can still be really entertaining and fun to watch, but lack that emotional and human gut-punch the studio is known for. Turning Red very much fits this mold I would say. The film is certainly fun and as a Canadian, it’s a treat to see a lot of Canadian details translated into a Disney film (who got the Timmies Easter Egg?).
But while the film has a lot of heart and explores the pressures faced on the youth by their parents, specifically in the Asian community (not unlike Shang-Chi), it isn’t as emotionally mature or complex as other Pixar narratives. It has great laughs and a nice story at the end of the day, but I found myself less invested in Mei’s story on an emotional level.
The style of Turning Red is pretty neat though. There are moments that are inspired by anime and they’re infused into the narrative. These are usually powerful emotions, which change the characters’ eyes into “anime” eyes, or feature poses ripped straight from shows like Naruto. Likewise, big actions and delcarations feel like anime special moves. In that regard, it feels very earnest and at times, it felt a little bit like a Scott Pilgrim-lite. It never fully commits to the style, but the few moments it goes there are some of the most creative in the animation style.
In the end, Turning Red is of similar quality to 2021’s Luca. It’s fun, heartwarming and has a good message. But it doesn’t hit the same highs as say Soul in 2020. That’s okay, not every film needs to be an emotional gut-punch, but you should just know what type of Pixar movie this is before going in. So grab some popcorn and have fun with it.