Turning Red: Pixar’s Panda Movie Has Humor, Heart, and A Roaring Finish

3.5 out of 5 stars (above average)

Much like an awkward teenager, Pixar’s latest outing Turning Red makes an odd first impression, but if you give it time, you’ll see the good it has to offer.  It’s a film about embracing all parts of yourself with a nifty fantasy element thrown in.  The characters are relatable, its humor largely works, and its themes about growing into yourself and setting healthy boundaries with people are strong, so it’s a shame a key character is poorly written in the first act.  Despite an early misstep, Turning Red is a sincere, humorous, and heartfelt outing from Pixar.

13-year-old Meilin Lee (voiced by Rosalie Chiang) has spent her life being the perfect daughter and hiding the stress that causes.  When her friends inform her of a Hanson-esque boy band coming to town soon, she desires to get tickets despite her overbearing mother Ming’s objection to such frivolity (Ming is voiced by Sandra Oh).  When Meilin wakes up one morning as a giant red panda, Ming informs her that every woman in the family has this quirk and that it should be hidden away.  However, Meilin decides to exploit the panda for concert cash, ultimately growing stronger and more confident in herself as a result.

Turning Red gets so much right that the one crucial thing it gets wrong is frustrating.  The teen characters and their friendship feel refreshingly authentic, the themes of finding oneself and not being a perfectionist at all times resonate, and Mei’s spunky personality makes you root for and relate to her.  The animation is Pixar’s best yet, the voice acting is excellent, and the aesthetic of and songs by the boy band reflect early 2000’s trends flawlessly (the film takes place in 2002).  The 3rd act also ends things on an insane yet surprisingly emotional note.  Unfortunately, Ming’s initial characterization and reaction to Mae’s puberty is jarringly exaggerated compared to the authentic feel of the characters and film around her, and although they remedy this as the film goes on, it’s still the one major snag that holds the film back for me.  Turning Red is a funny, heartfelt, and authentic-feeling examination of young teenhood that kids and adults should flock to.  See it on DisneyPlus.

Rated PG for Thematic Elements Mild Language, and Suggestive Material

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