It's too bad that Pixar's latest charmer "Turning Red" is being sent straight to Disney+. This totally unique and diverse tale is the sort of family film that would tremendously help out the sagging domestic box office still reeling from the effects of the pandemic.
There has been buzz about "Turning Red" being too narrowly focused, and I don't think this is an inaccurate criticism, with context. It's just a bit of a sexist accusation that this is being aimed at a movie about a young teenage girl dealing with the realities of puberty and family pressures...we almost never would hear a film about any other topic be categorized as "too narrowly focused" or "unrelatable" by the majority of middle-aged, white and male film critics (yes, of which I am one).
I've never fought in war, or lived in the sixties, or have been to outer-space, and I've also never thought that films in any of these genres have somehow been "unrelatable" simply because they aren't my exact experience. Heck, the entire pull of movies for me is that it allows for empathy for those that are NOT like me.
If you're still not convinced that "Turning Red" is only for women, Asian-Americans, or some other prescribed demographic? Look no further than my five-year-old son, who watched "Turning Red" and despite some of the content flying well-over his head (unrelatable!), he was quick to declare it as his new favorite movie...ever!
"Turning Red" is co-written and directed by Domee Shi, a long-time part of Pixar Animation Studios who was responsible for directing the heart-warming, animated short, "Bao," which ended up winning an Oscar in the category. Meilin (voiced by Rosalie Chiang) is a quirky and confident teenager living in Toronto, Canada, with an equally eccentric group of close friends. They're odd and confident all at once, and dealing with normal things teenage girls do, like crushes, obsessing over boy bands and trying to please their often over-bearing and annoying parents.
One day, Meilin inexplicably turns into a giant red panda. Her mother (Sandra Oh), mistakes this event at first as Meilin having had her first period. What follows is a movie about finding one's self, about not holding things in or back, and about coming to terms with who we are and perhaps more importantly, where we've come from. Her friends support her despite her recent changes. The women in her family - the only real antagonists in the film - represent a major burden of expectations, but their connections and relationships are the point.
There's some really fine animation (something with the mouths seems to borrow from Aardvark Animation's famous "Wallace & Gromit" stop-motion), some funny characters and - per usual when it comes to Pixar - oodles of originality and deeper meaning. Kids may not pick up on some of the main themes, but is that something new? And instead of criticizing the film as being "unrelatable," maybe instead these critics should dig a little deeper and try to come to terms with whatever it is that THEY have buried deep inside of themselves.
Meilin is a girl who has not fully become who she is, who feels the immense burden of her family and what's expected of her...who is trying to figure out her life with a little help from her friends.
If that isn't relatable, then what is?
Genre: Animation, Adventure, Comedy.
Run Time: 1 hour 40 minutes.
Starring (voices of): Rosalie Chiang, Sandra Oh, Ava Morse, Maitreyi Ramakrishnan, James Hong, Finneas O'Connell.
Co-Written and Directed by Domee Shi (feature-film directorial debut, previously directed the Disney Animated Short, "Bao.")
"Turning Red" is streaming on Disney+ on Friday, March 11th, 2022.
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