In Review

Film review: Turning Red

Charming Pixar animation about female puberty

“It’s hard to know what’s more impressive about the latest Pixar film,” said Robbie Collin in The Daily Telegraph, “its boundless artistry, ingenuity and loopy comic verve, or the mere fact that the studio got away with making it.” Directed by Domee Shi, this Disney+ animation looks squarely at female puberty, “with all the distinct bodily changes” it entails. Its heroine is Mei, a 13-year-old from Toronto (“winningly voiced” by Rosalie Chiang), who wakes up one day to find she’s turned into a giant red panda. Hearing her cry out in the bathroom, Mei’s mother (Sandra Oh) assumes she’s got her period and asks enigmatically outside the door, “Did the red peony bloom?” In fact, Mei has developed a “secret family trait”: at moments of “heightened emotion”, she becomes a bear. From there, the film explores the onset of Mei’s puberty sensitively and playfully, as she strives to bring her “furry alter ego” under control in time for her to attend a concert by her favourite boy band. 

Turning Red deserves credit “for finding comically direct ways to address the biological and emotional awkwardness of female adolescence in a family film”, said Alistair Harkness in The Scotsman. Usually, it’s a topic relegated to horror. But once Mei has learnt to control her panda self, the film doesn’t seem to know where to go, and it ends up feeling lazy and familiar. 

“Yes, there’s a formula at work here” and the dialogue can be a bit trite, said Kevin Maher in The Times. “But who doesn’t enjoy an exquisitely manipulated cry?” With a premise like this, the film could have been “awful and preachy, like a woke revamp of Disney’s actual 1946 public information cartoon, The Story of Menstruation”. In fact, it is “ingenious and light, and deeply lovely”.

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