Turning Red is the latest film from Pixar Animation Studios, directed by Domee Shi, and co-written with Julia Cho. The film follows Meilin “Mei” Lee [Rosalie Chiang], a 13-year-old Chinese-Canadian girl living in Toronto in 2002. Mei wakes up from having a nightmare one night, and finds she suddenly transforms into a giant red panda when her emotions are heightened. Mei must navigate the tumultuous newfound dynamics with her parents, Ming [Sandrah Oh] and Jin [Orion Lee], and her friends Miriam [Ava Morse], Priya [Maitreyi Ramakrishnan], and Abby [Hyein Park]. In the UK, the film was released on the Disney+ streaming service on March 11.
Turning Red is Domee Shi’s feature directorial debut after developing the Pixar short Bao (2018), making Shi the first woman to direct both a short and a feature-length animated film at the studio, as well as the first Asian-led film there. I watched Embrace the Panda: Making Turning Red (2022), also on Disney+, a making-of documentary showcasing the four lead women on this film including director Shi and writer Cho, alongside the director of photography for lighting Danielle Feinberg, and producer Lindsey Collins.
The fact this film has been executively created by women means the narrative of Turning Red is quite different from the other coming-of-age films from the studio, like Luca (2021) and Inside Out (2015). Turning Red isn’t afraid to talk about things like sanitary pads, puberty, and the horrors of teenage hormones.
Turning Red is a joy to watch, and audiences familiar with Studio Ghibli will notice scintillas of the studio’s influence throughout. There are also wider influences of Japanese animation found in the film too, which are quite charming. The colour palettes of the film are dreamy and nostalgic, and work well with the narrative to harmoniously create a delightful film.
For me, Turning Red is one of the best films Pixar has released in a number of years, and I absolutely recommend watching it. It’s funny, sharp, and captivating. The last few films from the studio have fallen below my expectations, and I have real hope Turning Red might be the one to revitalise the studio. (No pressure, Domee Shi!)
Final rating: 9/10
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