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The fact of the matter is that there needs to be more diverse stories being told in film and animation, and there needs to be a bigger push for more diverse storytellers behind these projects as well. It’s absurd how stubborn some animation studios can be or have been in the past to rely on the same three or so directors for all of their films, and that’s detrimental to actually telling more ambitious and creative stories. Do you think we would be where we are now with films like Into the Spider-Verse, The Mitchells vs. The Machines, Encanto, and today’s review of Turning Red if we had the same people in charge of greenlighting every single project? We need this change in the US animation scene, because having the same five or so directors with the same familiar but distinct to their own respective studios’ art styles gets tiring quickly. This is why much of the time, the best animated films that come out every year are from overseas, because they are willing to talk about stuff and do different animation and visual styles that most US studios aren’t willing to tackle. It’s frustrating, because now with studios like Pixar and Sony breaking down the walls that were limiting studios back then, they are now able to let artists and studios go in new directions. I mean, did you see that new Puss in Boots trailer? It looks amazing. Anyway, we are going to talk about Pixar’s newest animated venture with Domee Shi’s Turning Red.
Directed by Domee Shi and written by Domee Shi and Julia Cho, we follow the story of Meilin Lee, voiced by Rosalie Chiang. She’s an ambitious, proactive, and extremely realistic teenager living in Toronto with her family and circle of friends. After an absolutely embarrassing moment caused by her mother, Ming Lee, voiced by Sandrah Oh. When she reacts to some drawings in Meilin’s notebook, something changes within Mei overnight. The next morning, she finds out that she has turned into one of the world’s cutest animals, a red panda. After understandably freaking out, she then goes on a journey to find out how she can deal with this new and apparently familial “curse”, and still go on with being a newly appointed teenager and life around her.
Let’s start with the themes and overall story, because, for some reason, quite a few people, mostly uneducated, had some notoriously bad takes before and after this film’s release. Now then, to the people who said “I can’t relate to the main character.”, let me ask you a question, were you ever a teenager? Unless you are under 13, then you have been a teenager. Do you remember how many corny things you have said and done? How you have tried to be overly perfect in everything you do? What about some embarrassing drawings that you know don’t look good now, but you were super passionate about? Don’t you remember seeing a concert for a particular artist that you thought would be the biggest and most important thing in your life at that point? What about how you thought it would be the end of the world if you didn’t see that one concert, movie, show, or play that one new video game? What about that moment in time when you found your sexual discovery of finding other boys or girls cute and or hot? To the artists who are reading this, do you not remember drawing fanart or writing fanfiction of characters you loved and you “Frankenstein” them together into a story because you could? Turning Red does a fantastic job of capturing the messy era of time that is puberty and becoming a teenager more so than shows like Big Mouth. It’s an extremely awkward time, and one when you are finding things out about yourself that you never quite got until that point in time. The fact some people find this film unrelatable either means they have completely blocked out that part of them growing up, just found the execution of being said teenager not perfect, or are absolutely lying, because just because the character may not be 100% specifically you, that doesn’t mean that you can’t find characters relatable. I have reviewed films and shows that are 100% not relating to me, but I find ways to be invested with the entire story or experience. Don’t tell me you can relate to something like a walking toy, a bug, a car voiced by Owen Wilson, and then not a more relatable character like a pre-teen going through puberty and her period. The film’s story also tackles themes of pressure from the toxic familial drama that trickles down through generations, as Mei’s mother Ming also had to deal with that from her mother. Yes, we now have two animated films in a row from Disney that deal with toxic family ideals about perfection and the unhealthy pressure that is put upon the rest of the family. When Mei’s father, Jin talks with her in the third act, you can tell that while he had a more backseat approach to the overarching narrative, his talk with Mei is one of the most crucial story beats about loving yourself, and that means loving the side that’s great and all of the corny dorky awkward sides to it as well. Domee Shee and her team were able to weave such a tapestry of a story that, while it gets bonkers in the third act, was still executing it all with such precise accuracy and everything from the rest of the family members and friends has such nuance to them that it results in one of the most intimate stories ever made at the studio.
Before we move on though, isn’t it refreshing that an animated film actually acknowledges that periods are a thing? No real sugar coating of it either. This film makes it known that yes, this stuff happens in real life, and there are no attempts to walk around it since everyone is going to deal with it. It’s like how refreshing it is to hear a show or film about zombies actually call them zombies and not some generic marketable word like walkers, or when food competition shows can’t use branded food items and the show has to come up with the bargain bin generic title of those items, but then are actually able to say them. This whole element of the overarching plot due to the metaphorical puberty and period themes is a good sign of how far we have come to talk about this subject in shows and films without it being a weird and frankly gross/punching down punchline. For example, did you know that Disney originally didn’t release Isao Takahata’s masterpiece, Only Yesterday, into the states because one part of the story in a coming-of-age drama talks about the main characters getting periods? It’s a natural element of growing up or something! It only makes that fact so much more aggravating, because Disney was sure as heck glad to get those films over here, but apparently not all of them for some reason.
Now that we talked about the story, let’s gush about the animation. While it might be similar to last year’s film Luca, Turning Red takes Luca’s art style and amplifies it up to over 100%. This is hands-down some of Pixar’s most expressive animation. It’s ridiculous how much blood, sweat, and possible satanic goat rituals the talented animators have to go through at Pixar to really push the envelope with how expressive their characters can be. It has a really fast-paced snap to how Mei reacts to everything alongside the other side characters. There is definitely some of that Sony Pictures Animation snap to the movements, and the ease with which it puts you into the mindset of Mei when her mother either embarrasseds her in front of everyone at the convenience store or when her mom brings pads to school, even simply seeing the food on the family dinner table. They even add so many small 2D elements to the CGI models, like the sparkly anime eyes trope. When they get to the spiritual bamboo forest sequences, they look less like CGI forests and more like beautifully lush painted environments. It brings such an alluring and out-of-this-world atmosphere. All of Toronto really reminds me of the pastel colors you would see in a Kirby game and how full of character and life it is. It’s so cool to see that we are now in a space where CGI can have these new techniques and tools to bring the next step in CGI animation up to the plate. Sure, The Peanuts Movie and Into the Spider-Verse got the ball rolling, but to see how everyone has taken notice and want to do the same thing is such a nice change of pace, when back in the day and even as early as the last decade, everyone wanted to try and be that one studio when they should have been doing their own thing. Now, studios are doing their own thing and being the best they can be at what they do, but everyone gets to have more fun with taking the animation game to the next level! Who cares at the end of the day who started it first, let’s just enjoy the fact the US animation scene is growing.
Anyway, the voice cast is fantastic! The people in charge of casting at Pixar tend to always pick who would best fit the character, instead of who would get the most buzz for marketing and social media. Not to say they get no big-named actors, because a lot of the actors in this film are recognizable, but the fact they aren’t slammed in your face via the marketing is always going to feel refreshing. The actors they did get though, do a fantastic job with their characters. You get Rosalie Chiang as Mei who brings this delightful energy and driving force to the plot. Sandra Oh is always amazing in whatever she is cast, Orion Lee brings a nurturing and quirky nature to the dad, it’s always a good time when you bring James Hong into the equation, Wai Ching Hu is complex and captivating as Mei’s grandmother, and Ava Morse, Hyien Park, and Maitreyi Ramakrishnan do such a pitch-perfect job as Mei’s friends. The music that is composed by Ludwig Goransson was able to perfectly capture the films’ tone and the world of early 2000s Toronto. The boy-band tunes that are played throughout the film were composed by Billie Eilish and her brother, and they are shockingly good. They really capture the era of boy-bands the world was enjoying at that point in time.
There are a few story beats that could have been resolved better in the third act, but they are minor nitpicks, since this reviewer personally found that it hits the landing to make up for some of the small story beats and some clunky writing moments. Turning Red is a new step in the evolution of Pixar storytelling. Hopefully, they hire more new talent among their already immensely talented teams of animators to keep pushing the envelope of animated storytelling because as we have seen, when studios do that, others tend to follow with their own takes. It’s an early frontrunner for the best animated film of 2022 so far, and this year is stacked, so we will have to see where things go from here. Now then, let’s talk about an anime franchise film! The next one up will be the brand new and hugely successful Jujutsu Kaisen 0.
Thanks for reading the review! I hope you all enjoyed reading it! If you would like to support my work, make sure to share it out, and if you want to become a Patreon supporter, then you can go to patreon.com/camseyeview. I will see you all next time!