Director: Domee Shi
Story By: Domee Shi, Julia Cho, & Sarah Streicher
Cast: Rosalie Chiang, Ava Morse, Hyein Park, Maitreyi Ramakrishnan, Sandra Oh, Orion Lee, Tristan Allerick Chen, Orion Lee, & Ho-Wai Ching
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Eh… I’m glad this was released via streaming because… … … …
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Plot & Story: B-
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General Public: Don’t Watch
Film Enthusiasts: Don’t Rush
Experience Seekers (via Visuals & Score): Don’t Watch
Pixar / Family Film Fans: Don’t Rush
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1. Turning Red focuses on messages geared towards relationships between children and their parents for the most part, but also childhood identity. What stood out for me was a theme that begs the questions: What does it look like for a young person/child to live his/her/their “own” childhood? What does it look like for parents/guardians to provide space and support for a child/children developing into their own person as well as space to simply be a kid? What is womanhood, and who controls a daughter’s understanding of, and transition into, womanhood?
Acts 2 and 3 are the strongest in terms of following through with the theme, but that follow through felt a tad bit forced to the point of the Acts feeling like an entirely different movie/story from how the film begins which really comes down to the planning and execution of Ming and Mei’s relationship for me. 🤷🏾♂️🥴
2. The concert looked like it was about to be LIT! 😂🙌🏾
3. When I tell you, the animation and visual effects were stunning! 👏🏾👏🏾👏🏾👍🏾
4. I really enjoyed the personalities and energy from Mei-Mei and her friends—I was hooked from the beginning by Mei alone. Additionally, the Red Panda was an engaging character with a fun premise.
The tension between Mei and her mother in Acts 2 and 3 also do a great job with carrying out the theme—showing the strictness of Ming as a parent, and its impact on Mei finding her own way, and living her own childhood.
My issue was with the set up and follow through of the development and arc for Mei-Mei and her relationship with her mother that was ultimately used to help support the theme. I mean, the first moment of tension in Act 1 between Meilin and her mother… like really? There was NOTHING at all shown in the film prior to that moment to justify why her mother would respond in that way, or that she even had such expectations for her daughter in regards to the situation.
Furthermore, the Meilin being fought for in the second half of the film didn’t seem like the Meilin who was/ “wanting” to be introduced in the beginning of the film. In the first half of the film, Mei seemed like someone who was very secure with herself being this hyper-ambitious, “good and dependable child and student”, and those around her seemed to be understanding and accepting of that about her. However…in the second half of the film, Mei is treated as someone who needed to relax and “live a little” which came off to me as an attempt to keep up with the aspect of the theme focused on “space to be a kid…” and the role parents play in that actually happening.
The only moments we get to support the aforementioned idea are in the opening when Mei “tells us” the expectation of a child (which generalized a certain type of parent, but still didn’t really justify all of Ming), and a moment between Mei and her friends that sort of alludes to her taking a break (but it isn’t seen as such a big issue). Both moments but it isn’t enough for me to take as a full character flaw for Mei’s experience as a child.
And even though Acts 2 and 3 allow the characters to ease into developments and arcs that do work with the theme in the end (due to the point made with #1), I couldn’t help but continue to think about how different and forced it felt from Act One which had a slight impact on my viewing experience. 🥴
5. With a runtime of nearly 100 minutes, the film moves well for engagement, but doesn’t move well for the Ming and Mei’s character arcs and developments. As mentioned with a previous point, I just can’t forgive how fast the film created that tension between Mei and her mom in Act One. Additionally the suddenness of Ming’s character to be so high strung with her over protection and disapproval of things—again, there’s never any time given to help develop the home environment and interactions in the Lee family to really ground certain story decisions. 🤷🏾♂️
6. The best Act of the story is 2 for me. I really loved seeing Mei and her friends navigate their newfound fur-friend in such a middle school way. 👍🏾👍🏾
7. Alright for the 2002 track list! Yeeessss! 😂🙌🏾
8. The symbolism of the Red Panda was superb! 👏🏾👏🏾👏🏾👍🏾
9. There were too many random, quick inserts that didn’t work for me like the random emo boy she was smitten by for no more than a few minutes AFTER the Red Panda is introduced… and even her feelings about Devon while drawing the member of 4-town who resembled him the most when her favorite 4-town character is Robaire..
It honestly came off as decisions to maintain a sense of heteronormativity with Mei. #IJS🤷🏾♂️👀
10. When a middle school daughter who is stress and anxiety prone due to a need to please her mother realizes her emotions unleashes an inner animal, she is left to try and figure out how to exist, tame, and embrace this new side of her before it’s too late. This is what Turning Red eventually tells as a story…but this is Acts 2 and 3.
What one might see with Act One is a story of an ambitious middle school girl trying to balance life with friends and supporting her family until an unexpected, family curse shows up to shake up her world, for better or for worse, both at home and at school.
Now, I don’t think there is anything too drastically different between these 2 summaries, but I personally found the misuse of Ming’s character AND the lack of story of Mei’s family dynamic to be that glue to actually bring these 2 ideas together as one. After Act One, I was honestly expecting to see more around her family (the mom in particular) and how they interrupt her ambition and school persona which ultimately leads to the Red Panda premise.
Outside of that issue with the plot cohesion, Acts 2 and 3 do a decent job with giving space for the theme to take shape with Act 2 bringing in our title character navigating middle school life due to its disruption of a once meticulous and scholarly routine. This ultimately forces our main character to make decisions that benefit her as a child, but triggers her mother/family in Act 3 because this situation has brought about distress and a need/rationale for Ming’s overbearingness and hyper-protection which seems to be rooted in past family experiences.
…But even Acts 2 and 3’s thematic follow through felt a little sloppy at times due to the rushed pacing and focus on the Red Panda antics—Especially in the second half of Act 3. 🤷🏾♂️🥴
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Overall #TurningRed gives Animaniacs’ Katie Kaboom – meets the child-parent relationship of A Goofy Movie – meets Haku in Spirited Away – meets the friendship and antics of The Good Boys – meets Dani Moonstar in New Mutants – meets Jessi’s storyline in Seasons 1 and 2 of Big Mouth.
The film is cute—I won’t take that away from it— but you can definitely feel the difference when compared to a movie like Encanto, or Inside Out which is why I think being released via streaming was a smart move.
Furthermore, it felt a little sloppy/lazy in the story department (in terms of cohesion and continuity), but the animation and Act 2 storyline is what saves it/gives it some engaging qualities.
It’s not a Pixar film you need to make time to sit and watch, but if you happen to want some cute background noise as you do some work (or to occupy your children), it will serve its purpose in that way.