Growing up is hard. On top of dealing with school and raging hormones, parents or guardians can be highly embarrassing, although they want the best for their children. That is what Meilin “Mei” Lee (voiced by Rosalie Chiang) is going through in Turning Red. With the first year of teenagehood upon her, Mei is torn between pleasing her mother, Ming (voiced by Sandra Oh), and discovering who she is. Little does Mei know that things are about to get even more complicated.
One fateful night after an embarrassing episode with her mother, Mei’s navigation of her adolescence drastically turns when she wakes up in the form of a giant red panda. Obviously shocked by the transformation, Mei freaks out, leading her mother to believe that perhaps the “red peony has bloomed” (another time in a young girl’s life that can be a traumatic experience). Eventually, when Mei’s parents learn the truth, Mei knows that her ancestors have a shared history with the red panda, and she is not the only one with a tremendous red panda within.
Needless to say, this complicates Mei’s life in unexpected ways, but it also gives her the chance to and opportunity to be herself. With the encouragement of her friends Miriam (voiced by Ava Morse), Priya (expressed by Maitreyi Ramakrishnan) and Abby (voiced by Hyein Park), Mei can find ways to navigate the experience of having this red panda as part of her being, and this is where Turning Red really shines.
Written and directed by Domee Shi (the second woman and first woman of colour to direct a feature film for Pixar), Turning Red is a quintessential coming-of-age movie with a cute and fluffy twist (quite literally). But as cute as the red panda might be, Mei knows the hardship of being different and becoming a giant version of a typically small, fiery-furred, tree-climbing creature certainly checks off the different box.
Whether trying to balance schoolwork and friendship, having a newfound crush, wondering which boy band member is your life’s love, or navigating an increasingly strained relationship with a parent, Turning Red is easily relatable. The film does an exceptional job of showcasing the ups and downs in a new teenager’s life, and all while watching it, every scene brought back some kind of memory from when I was younger. In fact, Turning Red is the kind of film I wish I had the pleasure of watching when I was the same age as Meilin and her friends. Nevertheless, I am elated that the world has it now.
That being said, the best parts of Turning Red come from friendship and family. Firstly, who wouldn’t want to have an awesome friend group that is always there for you like Abby, Miriam and Priya, who are with you at your best and worst? It touches on the found family dynamic, as Meilin’s friends are what calms her and help her with the red panda, who is constantly trying to break free. However, not everything is perfect, as bullies and even Mei’s mother threaten to fracture the friendship. On the other hand, you have Mei’s overprotective mother, who is doing her absolute best but does not realize she is trapping her daughter in the same cycle that her mother once trapped her. Together, the mother-daughter duo has to break the cycle before they cause irreparable damage to their relationship.
Ultimately, when you put all of these elements together, you get a fantastic film that is wonderful for viewers of all ages. I know it’s early in the year, but I can confidently say that Turning Red will be one of my favourite films of the year. To quote boy band sensation 4*Town, there really is “Nobody Like U” when it comes to Turning Red. With a unique story, genuine humour, and emotional beats to tug at your heartstrings, Turning Red is one of Disney/Pixar’s best. I, personally, will be rewatching it a million times at least (and replaying all three of the 4*Town tunes).