‘Turning Red’ Is A Jam-Packed Coming-Of-Age Story With Lots of Fun And Warm Fuzzy Feelings – Review
Meilin “Mei” Lee is the star of Disney and Pixar’s newest movie, Turning Red, and she is an ambitious young lady ready to take on the world. Set in Toronto, Canada in 2002, this movie is bright, colourful, and nostalgic as we follow our Chinese-Canadian heroine when her aspirations take a horrifying turn for the worse when she suddenly transforms into a giant red panda.
Directed by Domee Shi, known for her award-winning Pixar short Bao, and written by Shi and Julia Cho, Turning Red stars Rosalie Chiang as Mei, Sandra Oh as Mei’s mom Ming Lee, Ava Morse as Miriam, Maitreyi Ramakrishnan as Priya, Hyein Park as Abby, Wai Ching Ho as Mei’s grandmother, and James Hong as Mr. Gao. Shi is the second woman, after Brenda Chapman, and the first woman of colour to direct a Pixar film.
Right from the beginning, we get a great sense of who Mei is: she’s lively, ambitious, incredibly dynamic, and super cool. She’s the kind of person I wish I was as a kid or someone I wish I was friends with. Her group of friends are also incredibly cool, and I loved seeing how ride-or-die they are for each other and how often they hype each other up. The mortifying ordeal of being a teenager is so much more bearable with great friends beside you. Get you some friends like Miriam, Priya, and Abby!
I also loved seeing Mei’s dynamic with her family, especially with her overprotective and overbearing mother. That sort of mother-daughter relationship is not unfamiliar to me. My mom never went to the extent of following me to school as Ming does, but like Mei, I remember having a strict and very early curfew after school and having to always stay close under my parents’ supervision. Having grown up and understanding that all of that came from a place of love had me easily connecting with Ming’s priorities in protecting Mei. It also led to some hilarious and borderline cringey shenanigans resulting in embarrassment that only a parent knows how to impart upon their child. As watchful and protective as Ming is over Mei, I love the exploration of their relationship as they try to adjust to Mei’s growth as a teenager. Plus, the cultural conflict between being “too Asian” versus being “too Western” is a common diasporic struggle. Though the topic wasn’t explored in-depth, it was still meaningful to see Mei and Ming navigate that together.
As someone who is Chinese and was a child growing up in the early 2000s, I found this movie to be simultaneously fresh and nostalgic. There are several little calls and touches that really put this movie in the early 2000s, and it all put me right back to that time. My favourite was seeing the Tamagotchi and obsessively checking on it, making sure it was fed and cleaned. Mei and her friends passing notes in class and doodling all over her notebook really brought me back to all those things that I used to do as a kid. I absolutely love that there’s a boy band, 4*Town, that the characters obsess over. Jordan Fisher, Josh Levi, Topher Ngo, Finneas O’Connell, and Grayson Villanueva are top-notch as the fictional boy band, and I say this specifically as a big Jordan Fisher fan.
It goes without saying that I adore the representation in this movie. Seeing the cultural and traditional touches and details made the movie feel instantly familiar. I could look at Mei or Ming or any number of her impressive group of aunties and think, “I know someone exactly like that in my life. I’ve lived these similar experiences.” I can only imagine how powerful and meaningful this will be to young Chinese girls who get to watch this movie and see themselves on screen.
Overall, this movie is delightful and fun! You’re in for a great time. The art style read to me as a possible homage to Studio Ghibli, and Mei’s transformation into an incredibly cute giant red panda felt like a nod to the iconic fluffy Totoro. Turning Red is a great coming-of-age story that explores the changes of becoming a teenager, examining identity, and finding a healthy balance between family and friends.