Turning Red review: Pixar’s quirky coming-of-age movie powered by friendship, family and serenading boy bands

Andrik Fernandes
  • Available to stream now on Disney+, this is the animation studio’s first film directed solely by a woman, Domee Shi, whose unconventional style is entertaining and heartwarming
  • Despite occasionally feeling rushed, the story explores the joys and struggles of growing up through its charismatic and relatable characters
Andrik Fernandes |

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Rosalie Chiang voices Meilin Lee in Turning Red. Photo: Pixar

Turning Red, a whimsical coming-of-age drama from Disney and Pixar, follows Meilin Lee (voiced by Rosalie Chiang) as she grows up in Toronto, Canada in the early 2000s – a setting well-represented in all its Tamagotchi-nurturing, boy band-worshipping glory.

Besides the fact that this is Pixar’s first film directed solely by a woman, one of its greatest strengths is in its well-developed characters, made possible by talented voices of the likes of Sandra Oh (Meilin’s mother) and Wai Ching Ho (Meilin’s grandmother).

This talent, when coupled with director Domee Shi’s unconventional animation style, evokes a goofy, playful feel distinct from its forerunners at Pixar.

At the start of the film, Meilin gives a wildly energetic introduction to her world – her best friends at school, her family and their temple, and her determination to be the best 13-year-old she can be. But after an embarrassing incident, she wakes up to discover that she transforms into a giant magical red panda whenever she experiences strong emotions.

At first, juggling an out-of-this-world development with the regular challenges of puberty seems doable for Meilin with the help of her friends. They become obsessed with seeing 4*Town – a more diverse version of the hit 1990s and early 2000s boy bands, Backstreet Boys and NSync, with their catchy songs and gyrating dances. This sets Meilin on an adventure of self-discovery and a fair share of mischief.

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At times, the story feels bogged down by trying to juggle so much within its tight runtime of one hour and 40 minutes.

It touches upon puberty and the struggles of carving out your own path when you’re surrounded by expectations of who you should be. It isn’t afraid of stirring in the common milestones of crushes, periods, fandoms and fights with friends, as well as references to cultural identity, family and belonging. But balancing these themes with all the fantastical aspects of the plot proves to be difficult and chaotic in some scenes.

Fortunately, Meilin’s tight-knit group of friends have her fluffy back. Hyein Park, Ava Morse and Maitreyi Ramakrishnan voice Abby (from left), Miriam and Priya. Photo: Pixar

Despite its rushed messiness at times, the film does serve up heartwarming fun, a key example of this being its climax involving a kaiju – a Japanese genre for giant monster attacks – that is defeated with the power of a serenading boy band, friendship and family. This moment is the epitome of the film’s ability to mash its high energy, charismatic characters and 2000s nostalgia to create a heartfelt, albeit hilarious, scene.

All in all, Turning Red is an entertaining departure from Pixar’s standard releases, all packaged within a quirky drama worth the watch on Disney+.

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