REVIEW: Turning Red Tackles Growing Up With Humor & Passion


Turning Red is a unique tale told in a fun and quirky way, even if it goes down a few too many rabbit holes on its journey to Wonderland. Pixar takes a chance on a bold new director, which most certainly pays off even when Disney doesn’t give the story a theatrical release.

It may be a faux pas to start an otherwise positive review with a complaint, but it is truly unfortunate that Turning Red will be headed directly to Disney+. The latest Pixar film has such a sense of adventure paired with animation that pops right off the screen, so it’s a shame that it won’t be used as a fun day out with the kids. Regardless, the story is still worth watching at home and guaranteed to be a fun night with either family or friends.

The film takes place in Toronto during the very specific year of 2002, with its boy band craze and virtual pet obsession. Protagonist Mei-Lin Lee (voiced by Rosalie Chiang) is a filial daughter who obeys her mother (voiced by the incredible Sandra Oh, although the fact that she’s Korean while the character is Chinese should be commented on) in all things – including spending her free time participating in the upkeep of her family’s temple.

TURNING RED - meilin and mingPIXAR

TURNING RED – Ming (Sandra Oh) and Mei Lee (Rosalie Chiang) © 2022 Disney/Pixar.

While her best friends do not entirely understand the sacrifices she makes to family duty, they are still the most supportive bunch you could ever wish for. In fact, that is one of the several themes which Turning Red deals with: true friendship and how it helps you grow and defines who you are. Of course, plenty of kids’ films – and adult fare, for that manner – have dipped their toe in the “dropping your friends when you change only to realize they love the real you” plot. But tropes exist because they’re worthwhile in the first place, and writer-director Domee Shi handles this one in an interesting and usual way.

Adolescence and puberty always come with their fair share of drama, oftentimes the kind that can threaten to shake up or destroy a friend group. Turning Red touches on this topic, but once again it’s not in the way you would expect. Rather than fighting over a boy (though there is indeed a boy – or boys – they all drool over), they have to deal with their bestie turning into a red panda when she’s stressed. And the issue isn’t whether they can accept her furry side, but whether Mei herself can accept this beastier side of herself. After all, it’s not the kind of life her mom would want for her, and Mei isn’t used to wanting something her mom doesn’t.

And that, of course, is the other major theme in Turning Red: the point at which honoring your parents and loving yourself divide. This is a question that was explored to some degree in Mulan, although in a very different way. Mei starts the film subsuming her love of the boy group 4*Town and her more-than-platonic interest in the convenience store clerk in order to please her mom, but where does it stop? By the climax, she must choose between letting her inner red panda out or keeping herself in for the sake of the family.


TURNING RED –  Abby (Hyein Park), Miriam (Ava Morse), Priya (Maitreyi Ramakrishnan) & Mei (Rosalie Chiang). © 2022 Disney/Pixar.

This was the part where I wished the film either had more space to dive into the nuance, or else had picked fewer themes to tackle. As earnest and enjoyable as Turning Red was throughout, it did not get to really indulge in the metaphor of Mei’s red panda as her inner self. There are several fun set pieces with it, as well as a few instances where things go quite wrong. But one must believe it’s truly essential to her happiness in order to fully buy the central conflict, and it was more like I went along with it rather than felt immersed in it.

Nevertheless, that was a minor detraction from an otherwise delightful adventure. As I previously mentioned, the animation was to die for, especially the way in which it showcased a variety of teenage girls – none of which fit the standard animated look, and none of which could be mistaken for stock drawings of anyone else. The attention to detail will be mind-blowing for viewers who were alive and aware in 2002, and the writing is strong enough to make each friend her own person. Mei’s besties are each distinct enough to be able to carry an individual movie, even as they are uniformly united in supporting Mei through this one.

Mei’s extended family and other classmates are around to provide some external conflict and add to her triggers, but they are understandably less developed. Though the family members do help explain some of Ming’s behavior and attitudes, I would say the resolution on that front is less clear-cut. Which may be realistic, but does add to Turning Red feeling a bit busier than it needed to. It’s something that might be said about the recent and fabulous Encanto, but in both cases it just means a TV show on Disney+ would not be amiss to flesh out the world even more.


TURNING RED – Mei (Rosalie Chiang). © 2022 Disney/Pixar. All Rights Reserved.

Whatever one might say against this adorable animated movie, however, the praises being sung are most important. It does not require a romance, a tragedy or an epic battle in order to convey the relatable struggle of growing up. Which is not to say this makes it a better story than ones who do use any of those things as a premise – but it does make it rather unique. Anyone who has ever experienced menstruation will immediately understand what Mei feels like unleashing the beast. I would fear being crass when equating the red panda to the monthly red wedding, but the film itself makes that comparison so I’m probably safe.

Turning Red premieres March 11 on Disney+. Its runtime is 100 minutes, and the film is rated PG-13 for thematic material, suggestive content and language. Are you excited for the next Pixar adventure? Why or why not? Let us know in the comments below.