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  • Writer's pictureMatt Conway

Turning Red: Review

Turning Red Synopsis: Mei Lee (Rosalie Chiang) is a 13-year-old girl who is torn between being her mother’s (Sandra Oh) obedient daughter and the chaos of her youth. As if that were not enough, she turns into a giant red panda when she gets too excited.

Pixar continues to operate more like a prestigious art house studio rather than a mainstream animation entity, entrusting their elite team of storytellers and animators to conjure thoughtful depictions of the human condition. From a mermaid discovering companionship during the endless summers to a superhero family dealing with their superpowered family dilemmas, Pixar consistently mines creative storytelling avenues that often resonate on a deeply personal level.

Domee Shi’s feature-length writing/directorial debut, Turning Red, unsurprisingly falls in the same mold. Shi approaches her material with vibrant visceral and storytelling sensibilities, injecting an energetic pulse that feels tailor-made for her jumpy adolescent protagonist. It’s a blast to watch the filmmaker zero her sights on the teenage experience. Shi possesses a keen understanding of the period’s distinct joys and conflictions, with Mei enduring an all-too-real struggle for authorship over her life under the shadow of her loving yet controlling mother.

Turning Red finds a comfort zone in its most intimate moments. Enhanced by the narrative’s adept cultural understanding and clever implementation of the early 2000s zeitgeist, Shi repurposes commonplace tenants of the coming of age genre in an experience that feels distinctly its own. I also credit the filmmaker and Pixar for never shying away from difficult conversations. The film handles its subject matter with a proper balance of sensitivity and empathy for its subjects, building toward a well-earned emotional crescendo by the time credits roll.

Turning Red doesn’t avoid some of Pixar’s frequent trappings, including a narrative that relies too heavily on commonplace narrative mechanics. Still, Shi and company draw an agreeable and emotionally sincere descent into the adolescent experience.


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