‘Turning Red’ review: A pubescent Pixar Classic

I’m trying to think of the last feature film that had an equally clever premise and an equally ingenious central metaphor as Turns red, which unites the horrors of puberty with the troops from an old-fashioned monster movie. The answer may be Inside out, which anthropomorphized human emotions in a struggle for control of the mind of a sad young girl. The fact that both films came from Pixar speaks to the continuing expertise of our country’s best animation studio, even in light of radical changes in Hollywood – like the fact that the company’s last three productions have all gone straight to streaming on Disney +.

Although there are worse things in the world than millions of people gaining instant access to an excellent family movie, the truth of the matter is that Turns red is better than just about anything you can see in a movie theater right now. Given its bold visual design and epic conclusion (not to mention its catchy pop soundtrack) it would have been even better on a big screen. (The film will be shown in a select few cinemas; here in New York, it opens on a single screen in Times Square.) A live-streaming premiere is certainly not the result Pixar’s talented artists wanted when they created this amazing film, but as Turns red teaches us that life rarely turns out as we expect.

To prove it, just look at Mei (Rosalie Chiang), Turns red‘s hero. A confident and smart 13-year-old girl living in Toronto in the early 2000s, Mei thinks she has figured it out. She has a thriving academic career and a fantastic group of friends, all of whom share the love of a popular boy band that is entertainingly called 4 * Town, even though the group has five members.

Mei has kept most of her social life – along with her budding attraction to boys – from her overbearing mother Ming (an unforgettable Sandra Oh), but it is not long after her mother discovers a diary full of her daughter’s hormone drawings of boys , that Mei wakes up one morning covered in fur and turned into a giant red panda. Mei tries to hide her new body in the same way that she has hidden all the other things in her life that she does not want her disapproving mother to know, but it’s a little hard when you’re eight, feel tall and several hundred kilos. And then Ming quickly discovers what has happened – and also reveals Me’s “little quirkiness” in their family. There is a cure, but its demands create even more tension between Mei and Ming and between what Mei wants from her life and what her mother expects from her daughter.

Turns red was directed and co-written by Domee Shi, who has previously made the Oscar-winning Pixar short film “Bao”, and there are clear thematic parallels between her two productions: Both films show dominant Chinese Canadian mothers who are afraid of losing control over their children. I hesitate to speculate too intensely about Shi’s personal life, but it’s clear that she still remembers the emotional scars of her childhood and that she possesses an eerie ability to find ingenious allegorical hooks to turn deeply emotional stories into broader entertainment.

In “Bao,” a steamed bun stood for a sticky mother’s child. IN Turns red, there is Meis ‘transformation from tween to giant red panda, and it works on so many levels: As a stand-in for a girl’s first menstruation or for puberty more generally, and for the way Meis’ culture expects women to bury their feelings for guilt . to keep the look straight. Meis panda also makes something extremely specific into something more universal. I’m not Chinese or Canadian or a girl, and I’m about ten years older than the main characters in this movie, but I’m deeply related to Mei and her situation. Anyone who grew up as an outsider in school, or struggled to satisfy demanding parents, or felt completely uncomfortable in their own body when they came to middle school, will find something – or a lot of things – they recognize in Turns red.

As mature and smart as Turns red is, it’s also a really entertaining story, with an ending full of laughter as big as Meis’ panda. The vocal performances, especially from Chiang and Oh, are so sharp and funny, and also so emotional when the story takes some dramatic turns in its final act. Cinematically, Turns red is the complete package.

It also makes Shi the most exciting filmmaker to have come out of Pixar since its first wave of brilliant directors like Andrew Stanton and Pete Docter. It’s not just the studio’s best film (and metaphor) since Inside out – it’s one of their best movies ever. No matter where the company’s next project premieres, I just hope they continue to make original, heartfelt, beautiful films like Turns red. It is one of those special movies where you already know your first viewing already know that there will be a 100th viewing one day.

MEANING: 10/10

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