Turning Red: I Wish I Could Be A Red Panda
Pixar just makes good movies...at this point even their movies that aren't top tier are still at the very least entertaining and a visual spectacle. Then they come out with a movie like Turning Red, a movie that explores the idea of puberty through the lens of an absurd narrative plot device, and it works so well! This movie is entertaining and important, showcasing things that most movies geared toward a younger audience tend to shy away from. Not to mention, the animation remains absolutely beautiful.
The Panda of it all
Mei is a young girl on the brink of puberty. She's a nerdy overachiever with an overbearing mother, but Mei also has a very close-knit group of friends, and they are all obsessed with the boy band 4*Town. One day she wakes to find that she has turned into a giant red panda, which, it turns out, is part of a gift (that has become a burden) that was placed on her family centuries ago. Every woman in their familial line has gone through this change, and there is a specific ritual they must do in order to seal the panda away for good. It just so happens that the ritual has to be done on the same night as the big 4*Town concert. What is Mei gonna do?!?
That is the basic plot for Turning Red, and while it may seem a little simple, or like a road that's already been trodden down, it is told in a way that makes it feel extremely fresh, and more relevant than ever. It does this by exploring this story through the eyes of a young Asian woman, and the rituals, expectations and societal mores that are a part of her culture and heritage. It's a breath of fresh air, and a wonderful take on this type of tail...pun intended.
The animation style of this movie is strikingly detailed, with all of the textures of the movie vibrant and varied. In particular, the fur of the panda characters in this movie is wonderful, making you want to reach out and pet it. The character designs are vibrant and engaging, with characters having their own styles that felt instantly defined and thought-through, while remaining distinctly turn-of-the-millennium, when the film is set.
The movie also touts a stacked voice cast, who all turn in great performances. Rosalie Chiang is fantastic as Mei, and captures that awkward, nerdy, early 2000s teen girl flawlessly. Sandra Oh continues to be incredible in everything she touches as Mei's mother Ming Lee, who has to deal with the generational trauma inflicted on her that she is subconsciously perpetuating. Maitreyi Ramakrishnan also stands out as Mei's friend Priya who is obsessed with vampires.
Panda-monium... get it?
This movie is important and refreshing in the way it talks about young women going through puberty. The clear metaphor of the movie, that Mei turning into a panda is synonymous with her starting to get her period, is a wonderfully blunt take on the topic for a family movie. It was refreshing to see a film talk about this important stage of human development in a way that was both educational and funny. Hopefully it leads to more open communication between parents and their children in terms of this subject.
Overall this movie is a wild, wonderful ride from start to finish. The performances elevate the hysterical script and make for an engaging, fun and panda-tastic watch. It's an important film that talks candidly about issues facing teens today, but is also super relatable to adults. Beautiful animation and inventive character designs lead to this being another notch on the belt of fantastic Pixar movies. As for that 4*Town album...it'll break your Spotify account with how catchy those songs are, so be prepared for ear-worms and bops along with this warm tail... ...yes, I made that joke again. Deal with it.