Synopsis: Meilin Lee (Rosalie Chiang) is torn between two worlds. On one hand, she is a quirky, spunky thirteen-year-old who loves math, her friends, and is obsessed with the boy band 4*Town. On the other hand, she is dedicated to her mother, desperate to please her and make her proud. These two worlds come crashing down when she discovers she has an ancient family curse that turns her into a giant red panda whenever she feels any strong emotion. Navigating the path to becoming a teenager is hard enough, now Meilin has to find a way to calm the literal beast inside without denying who she is becoming.
Breakdown: Well, I don’t know what I was expecting, but it certainly wasn’t that. Turning Red is the most sexually explicit film that Pixar has ever made. I am shocked that it isn’t rated PG-13. And that’s a real shame, because at the heart of this film is a loving look at Asian life in early 2000s Toronto, honoring your family, and embracing change.
One of the things I enjoyed about this movie is the relationship between Meilin and her friends. These girls feel realistic and genuine, and each one of them looks and acts unique. Pixar is known for constantly pushing the boundaries when it comes to animation, and their human animation in Turning Red is some of the best I’ve ever seen. Each person feels unique and real, and their relationships reflect relationships I’ve seen in real life, particularly when I was thirteen.
My favorite Pixar movie is Coco, which is a beautiful and tender look at embracing who your family is and who you are within the confines of your family. There are similarities between Turning Red and Coco, especially when it comes to representing different cultural and familial traditions on screen. These are the moments when Turning Red really shines; from its Anime-flavored sequences to its depiction of traditional Asian food to the representation of Meilin’s family’s temple and ancestors, there is a real cultural love that is being represented on screen. Unfortunately, the similarities between the two come to a screeching halt there.
I have no problem with periods or talking about puberty; I have two older sisters and I was a middle school teacher for a couple of years. It comes with the territory. And I really have no problem with it being in a movie, even one that is targeted towards pre-teens. What I do have a problem with, though, is that Pixar has built up its reputation as a studio for kids of all ages, and Turning Red is decidedly not a movie for younger kids. Thankfully, if you are in a kid profile on Disney Plus, Turning Red doesn’t show up, but this movie is rated PG and for those parents who aren’t paying attention, it could slip through the cracks.
Additionally, this movie is wrapped up in a deceptively kid-friendly cuddly red panda package, making it seem like it fits in with the rest of Pixar’s catalogue. It doesn’t. Kids these days are being forced to grow up so quickly, can we save the talk of gyrations and pads and ‘keeping your red flower clean’ for when they are a little older? That’s my biggest problem with the movie–it comes across as a slapstick fish-out-of-water adventure movie (it is), but there are lessons and discussions that happen in the film that I want to handle with my kids, when I think they are ready, based on who I know them to be. I don’t want a Pixar film doing it for me.
There’s also just that Pixar level of quality that seems to be missing here. It’s been missing in a lot of their recent films: The Good Dinosaur, Onward, even Finding Dory. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but there is that final level of excellence that Pixar is known for that those movies, Turning Red included, are missing. It’s almost as if they took the movie out of the oven too early; it needs some more time to cook.
I think the thing that is missing the most for me is that feeling of universal appeal. Hear me when I say this: I know that not every movie needs to center around a straight white male for me to feel like it applies to me. In fact, I generally appreciate movies in which I am not represented in the central character–just take a look at my favorite Pixar movie, Coco. I didn’t grow up in Mexico nor am I Hispanic, but those aspects of the film, though lovingly researched and represented, were not the central hook. The central hook of that movie is family and generational trauma.
The themes of family and generational trauma are present in Turning Red, but they get so lost in the constant need to fill the screen with bright flashing lights and loud noises and pop culture references. So much of the heart of the film gets lost because it is trying desperately to be something different that it really doesn’t know what it is. Which, if you think about it, is a nice parallel to the overarching message of the story, but it is so muddled and convoluted that it ends up alienating those who are not or were not a 13-year-old Asian-Canadian female in 2002. It’s so hyper-specific that it misses the boat for everyone not in that tiny microcosm, which is something that other Pixar films have been able to avoid. Their greatest films have centered around a specific audience, yes, but they have also taken the rest of the audience along for the ride as well instead of simply saying “this isn’t for you.” Previous Pixar films have been for everyone; Turning Red simply isn’t. There is something decidedly un-Pixar about this sentiment.
Verdict: 2 out of 5 stars
I wanted to like Turning Red, I really did. And parts of it I really enjoyed. When it calmed down a bit and told a story about embracing who you are in the context of your friends and family, it really is a beautiful movie that hits all the right notes. There is just so much more mixed in that really muddies the message and makes this one of Pixar’s biggest misses in recent years. I’m confused as to who this is for; I know its not for me and I’m ok with that. I’m not Hispanic, but I loved Coco. A movie doesn’t have to be for me to speak to me, and Turning Red simply didn’t speak to me. Here’s hoping Pixar’s next film, Lightyear, shows more of a return to form for the legendary studio.
Mark Pereira is a senior writer for Boss Rush Network. He loves all video games, but his top three favorites are Skyward Sword, Super Mario 3D World and Batman: Arkham Asylum. You can find him on Twitter where he’s usually talking about Nintendo, video games, movies, and TV shows.
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