Quick summary: A young teenager finds out her family members transform into red pandas when they come of age, unless they trap the red panda spirit in a talisman.
I had heard quite a lot of negative things about this, about how it’s overly sexual, makes references to abortions and periods. But those were from idiots, from people who’s opinions I actually trusted, they said it’s excellent. Turns out they were the correct. This feels like the closest Pixar has got to a sitcom in terms of how it introduces the characters. On that subject, it starts with her talking about making movies, but that never really hangs over the film like it does Mitchells Vs. The Machines. Also, the animation isn’t quite as good as Pixar usually does, but that says more about what they normally do than what this film does. Those are the few problems I have with this film. Otherwise? It’s stunningly beautiful.
I’m aware I’m not the target audience, it may be a surprise to you but I am not an Asian-Canadian teenage girl, but the characters are so well written that they’re very easy to relate to. For most people anyway, for Cinemablend reviewer Sean O’Connell it was too limiting in scope (direct quote: “By rooting Turning Red very specifically in the Asian community of Toronto, the film legitimately feels like it was made for Domee Shi’s friends and immediate family members. Which is fine — but also, a tad limiting in its scope”), presumably because if a film isn’t aimed at people who are exactly like him he dislikes it. Which is weird as he seems to like Batman movies, which make me think his parents were shot in alleyway, or he just has adolescent violent power fantasies and uses superhero movies so he can express his violent tendencies while still claiming to be morally superior.
But I still liked this movie. The characters are so easy to like, and the story is one that’s easy to identify with. Pixar are great at picking up on the little nuances that make people tick. Their films are as much character studies as they are stories. The performances are all great, it’s good to know that animation studios have continued their new casting technique of “casting people with same ethnic background as the characters”, who’d have guessed that would have better results than “hire a sitcom actor to do a funny accent”? It’s especially notable because the main character is voiced by Rosalie Chiang, and this is her first role. She knocks it out of the park and I hope this leads to more roles in her future. She’s getting quite a lot of plaudits, and rightfully so. But I feel a performer who is going under the radar in this is Maitreyi Ramakrishnan, who delivers such a brilliantly deadpan performance that her character provides some of the best moments. Other than that the film is mostly unknowns, with the exceptions of Sandra Oh, and James Hong. But if you’re going to see a Pixar film to hear famous actors, you’re going for the wrong reasons. You don’t go to them for that, you go to be broken slightly.
This does have a lot of important things to say about teenage independence, and about how parents need to actually let teens be teens (this is somehow a controversial thing, and is being fought against by the same people who say “let kids be kids”, and no, they don’t see the irony in that, they never do). This will hit people differently, young kids will just see it as a fun film about a teenager who turns into a panda, teenagers will see it as a story about a girl desperate for her own identity and to be treated differently, and parents will see it as as a tale about a fear of your child losing their innocence, and how you have to let them grow up and make mistakes in their own way.
In summary, this has replaced High Fidelity as the best example for me to use when I sell Petra to people. And for that I am grateful.