Turning Red is easily Pixar’s best film since Coco, and that’s no small statement coming from this writer, who was a huge fan of Luca and Soul.
In this breathlessly funny coming-of-age flick, teenager Mei is going through growing pains. One morning in a freshly energetic chapter of her life, she wakes up to discover she’s become a giant red panda, a transformation she soon learns to control in alignment with her emotions. Explicitly speaking, the protagonist’s journey is an expression of the menstrual cycle – something that Pixar understands shouldn’t be culturally stigmatised.
For some time, the studio’s ambition has stretched to a deep exploration of ideas that may bypass the targeted young viewer’s mind but engage the parent who’s taken the child to the cinema for what’s otherwise a kid’s film. This picture, directed by Domee Shi of Bao fame, continues the brand’s inclusive and all-encompassing approach to storytelling, one that succeeds even beyond its core concept.
This film also covers the classic high school experience, boy band obsession (there are genuinely good tributes to the Y2K era in the soundtrack composed by Billie Eilish and her brother Finneas), early noughties Toronto life, Chinese culture and motherhood. However, through its rich coverage of all these concepts is the development of a mixed metaphor. Mei’s panda form becomes a source of conflict between her and her mother when she learns it relates to a generational curse. Without revealing too much, the whole idea of the panda becomes much more convoluted to follow than it initially seems. It’s a case of a filmmaker wanting to have their cake and eat it too, attempting to reconcile theme with plot.
Ultimately, though, the back-to-back bangers of Luca and Turning Red represent a company direction that nurtures new IP from emerging writers who identify thrilling entertainment within autobiography, mining humour and poignancy from their own memories in addition to the endless imaginative possibilities of the medium. This film could never have been made by anyone other than Shi and the perfectly mixed qualities of being broadly universal and uniquely authored are what set it apart in the sphere of global animation cinema. There’s no betting on sequels and spin-offs to win points for originality but, at this rate, perhaps the studio’s next venture, Lightyear, can surprise us just the same.
Turning Red is released on Disney+ on 11th March 2022.
Watch the trailer for Turning Red here: