Turning Red Movie Review & Summary: Subtle and Loud, Pixar’s latest is a Period Film

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Video Source – Pixar (Pixar YouTube Channel)

With Turning Red, Pixar has managed to do just that by capturing the life of a teenage Chinese-Canadian girl as she undergoes a journey of self-discovery in a conflicting environment, largely contributed by her tradition-loving and controlling mother (much like Disney’s Brave).

Turning Red Movie Cast

  • Rosalie Chiang as Meilin
  • Sandra Oh as Ming
  • Ava Morse as Miriam
  • Wai Ching Ho as Grandma

Turning Red Movie Plot

Meilin “Mei” Lee(Rosalie Chiang) is the perfect 13-year-old any parent could wish for. A studious, helping, and abiding young girl that Mei Mei is, she constantly works towards winning her mother’s approval. Still, she has some secrets which her mother will not approve of such as part of being an obsessive group of friends who go gaga over the boy band 4*Town.

Apart from her newfound likeness towards boys, Mei Mei does as her mother wishes which include helping her with the family temple duties. After a bad day, one night Mei Mei goes through a nightmare. When she wakes up in the morning, she has turned into a giant red panda. Trying to hide from her mother, she leads her to believe that she has started menstruating. Soon, Mei Mei realizes that the panda comes out when she’s going through an overflow of emotions.

She heads to the school but is secretly followed by her concerned mother. An embarrassing situation follows releasing the red panda. After a quick chase, back at home, the secret behind the panda is revealed to her by her parents. All the daughters of the family were gifted by the family deity with the power to turn into a red panda when they reached the right age. Mei Mei is told about the ritual she will have to go through that will get rid of the panda.

The ritual’s one month away and meanwhile, the pop boy band 4*Town is touring the city. Unfortunately for poor Mei Mei, the ritual will happen on the same day the concert is taking place, putting her in a spot where she will have to choose between the ritual and the concert. 

Turning Red Movie Review

Turning Red Movie Review

Life in the teenage years is tough. Too much happening too quickly without enough time to grasp anything. A lot of changes taking place suddenly can play on the nerves of any growing-up teenager. But what happens when along with coping with the usual changes, a teenager has to cope with living in a mixed cultural environment. Sounds pretty serious, but always trust in Pixar to put together a soulful and funny coming-of-age animated film.

From Lion King to Encanto, familial conflict happens to be hot in the animation movie market. Turning Red seems to go towards the same direction from the start and rightfully so, it does explore the waters. Overachieving kid and obsessively controlling mother makes for the stereotypical Asian parent-kid dynamic. Turning Red’s first act plays on these stereotypical tropes quite from the beginning. The traditional mother expects her daughter to stick to the cultural sentiments and stay away from the bad influences. The daughter, while constantly at odds with her own wishes, still follows the dictum to keep her mother happy. 

But first impressions aside, Turning Red redeems itself by achieving much more. The troubling journey through puberty is given a metaphorical image through the giant red panda which comes out every time Mei Mei goes through an emotional swing. The title itself hints at the onset of the menstrual cycle when literally things turn red. The increased curiosity towards boys, frequent emotional outbursts, constant internal conflict, and the urge to rebel bring to life the nuances of the female growing-up experience. Reconciliation happens at different levels between friends, family, and within. Domee Shi, through Turning Red, tells a story of the seemingly traumatic experience of going through puberty, along with the acute portrayal of how familial baggage continues to haunt generations of its members. Mei Mei’s constant attempt to win her mother’s approval is mirrored by her mother Ming Lee’s (Sandra Oh) need for the same from her mother. 

It’s just not the love-hate relation Mei Mei has with her mother that’s touched. Mei Mei is also lucky to have a group of friends, which by the way consists of a Korean, an Indian, and a Canadian girl (representation is taken care of). The girl gang’s obsession with the boy band 4*Town presents plenty of opportunity for real moments of friendship between the four, who despite the cultural differences of their backgrounds, stand as rock for each other with minor hiccups on the way. Irrespective of gender, it becomes relatable for everyone who has turned towards their friends when they found themselves hitting the bottom in the turbulent teenage years.  

Vibrant animation style with loud and expressive characters, accompanied by three original songs written by Billie Eilish and Finneas O’Connell make Turning Red a constantly eventful, vibrant, and enjoyable watch while at the same instance handling important topics with immense care. U Know What’s Up and Nobody Like U, sung by Eilish and O’Connell, are catchy and memorable original songs from the duo, the latter one being accompanied by some chanting in Mandarin at the back adding cultural flavor to the pop number. The young voice cast does a remarkable job in filling the characters with innocence, ingenuity, and excitement. Sandra Oh doesn’t require a special mention or appraisal as she’s relentless as always even behind the screen. 

The Movie Culture Synopsis

Nobody does it better than Pixar to lay complex subjects on a delicious platter and make it so easily palatable in the form of magical stories. Dreamy sequences with some big, starry-eyed young teenage girls driving the plot, and the relatable conflict at home, merged with the personal female experience, brought out through colorful animation and meaningful symbolism make Turning Red a necessary watch, especially for kids in the same age as the characters.

The layered storytelling achieved by this animated film will definitely make way for some dining table conversations between kids and parents. For girls, especially the really young ones, it provides a picture of things to come in a rather subtle and less horrifying manner.

For young boys, it’s a starter lesson that takes them away from the constant delineation of the female experience. In its essence, apart from the negligible issues with the cultural handling, Turning Red is colorful and magically real. 

Author

  • Shreejit is an aspiring writer and a journalism student. He loves philosophizing books and cinema. Coming to movies, horror and tragic romances take the cake for him. Thrillers excite him too but nothing beats a tearjerker tragedy of Shakespearean proportions on a gloomy Monday night.