Turning Red


Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Turning Red
"Even when pandamonium breaks out Shi always has the emotional backdrop fully under control." | Photo: Disney Pixar

Anyone who has passed through puberty has been there. The sudden bodily changes that make you feel incredibly visible in all the wrong ways, hot and cold emotions running off the hook. In the case of 13-year-old Chinese-Canadian Mei Lee (voiced by Rosalie Chang) that sticking out in a crowd feeling is taken to a whole new level as she suddenly finds herself turning into a whopping great red panda when she gets too emotional.

The colour red is an interesting choice here as while symbolising luck and happiness in Chinese along with rage and embarassment in the West it also obliquely references that other female milestone of puberty - something that the film doesn't shy away from and treats with care. If things weren't bad enough, the panda problem is something her mum (Sandra Oh), who has distinct tiger tendencies with helicopter mom rising, knows all about it.

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Turns out turning into a panda is a family curse and in a month Mei will need to take part in a ceremony to banish it - but the trick will be keeping it contained in the meantime. In fact, it turns out that the panda might well have side benefits, since Mei and her adorable mates -  Miriam (Ava Morse),  Abby (Hyein Park) and Priya (Maitreyi Ramakrishnan) - have just discovered their favourite boyband 4*Town are playing and they need a get rich quick scheme to buy tickets.

Domee Shi, who previously made Pixar short Bao, shows a real eye for teenage friendship in her depiction of the four girls, whether they're practising their favourite routine or just generally being their for one another in all the tiny ways that count the most. She also neatly avoids turning Mei's mum into a monster. She may be pushy but her heart is in the right place and the carefully worked coming-of-age dynamic which sees Mei gradually learn to take a stand at the same time as her mum faces up to some home truths about her own upbringing is one of the film's most satisfying.

The pace is brisk but leaves room for character manoeuvre and even when pandamonium breaks out Shi always has the emotional backdrop fully under control and working its own brand of magic.

Reviewed on: 27 Dec 2022
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Turning Red packshot
Adolescence unleashes a young girl's inner panda.

Director: Domee Shi

Writer: Domee Shi, Julia Cho

Starring: Rosalie Chiang, Sandra Oh, Ava Morse, Hyein Park, Maitreyi Ramakrishnan

Year: 2022

Runtime: 100 minutes

Country: US


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