After making an impressive debut with the short Bao, Domee Shi reunites with Pixar for her feature debut Turning Red. Mei Lee (Rosalie Chiang) is a confident, dorky, thirteen-year-old girl who is torn between staying as her mother's dutiful daughter and the chaos of being an adolescent. And as if changes to her interests, relationships, and body weren't enough, whenever she gets too excited (which for a teenager is practically ALWAYS), she "poofs" into a giant red panda!
First, I want to commend the folks at Pixar for all the firsts they made with the film. Turning Red is the first Pixar film solely directed by a woman and the first to take place in Canada. In addition, it's the second film in their catalog to feature an Asian lead character after Up. I hold that film in very high regard. Honestly, the opening montage for Up moved me more than any other film released in 2009. Read on to find out my thoughts about Turning Red.
The film starts out promising, with a concrete voice cast of veteran Asian actors getting their shine on. The cast includes Sandra Oh as Ming Lee, the strict and overprotective mother of Mei, Wai Ching Ho as Wu Lee, Mei's grandmother, and James Hong as Mr. Gao. Kudos to the casting department for using the unknown for our heroine, as it brought a sense of realism to the film's plot.
Domee Shi, the film's director, co-writes the script with Julia Cho and the duo takes inspiration from Shi’s experience growing up in Toronto. I will credit both women for tying growing teenage pains into family history. We all know that you go through so many emotions at age 13, and the script nails that.
I have to admit, I did not find myself invested in the movie as other Pixar films of the past. Perhaps it was the pacing of the film or that Turning Red falls into familiarity in the film's third act. Our heroine learns that she can contain the curse by performing a special ritual on a specific night. That night just happens to coincide with a concert by her favorite boy band, 4*Town. This angle of the film actually played a part in my disinterest.
After the solid Soul and Luca, Pixar's latest was missing something for me. Turning Red is nowhere near as bad as, say, Cars 2, which reeked of a cash grab, or The Good Dinosaur, which was abysmal. Nevertheless, the animation in the movie is beautiful, and I'm sure younger viewers will have it on repeat for years to come.
Final Grade: C+
Turning Red is available to stream on Disney + now.