Pixar is an animation studio that I really think needs no introduction. The legacy they have left with their films has been so massive and grand that I've been struggling to write even more introductions about how great a studio they are and how much their films have left an impact on audiences around the world, including on myself. Every time they release a brand new animated film, it's an event that I always look forward to every year. The latest new animated film to come out from the prestigious animation studio is "Turning Red" and this was a film that I was very excited to see and quite honestly surpassed my expectations. I was certainly looking forward to seeing the film and hoping to love it and yet I came out loving it way more than I initially expected. This is another terrific animated film from Pixar that shows they are still on fire when it comes to making incredible stories that can touch the hearts of audiences as I found it so entertaining and relatable. This one really was so much fun.
When a young Chinese girl in Toronto named Mei (Rosalie Chiang) turns 13, she is determined to make 2002 her big new year where she can start to mature. Despite being a perfect straight-A student and determined to make her strict mother Ming (Sandra Oh) very happy and proud, she has been finding other interests outside of being perfect with her friends Miriam (Ava Morse), Abby (Hyein Park), and Priya (Maitreyi Ramakrishnan) which includes crushing on a boy in a convenience store and obsessing over the boy band 4*Town. One night though, she wakes up to discover she has turned into a giant red panda and is absolutely horrified by it. She then soon learns from her mother that the red panda transformation was a family blessing dating back to Ancient China and Mei is naturally horrified and angered with it. While she learns that there is a date where the panda blessing can be contained, she soon discovers her friends and classmates at school love the red panda transformation as it brings out a new side of Mei they haven't seen. From there, Mei tries to figure out how to control her red panda to please her friends and classmates as well as trying to figure out how they can go to see 4*Town who are planning to come to perform in Toronto.
This was an animated film that really surprised me with just how great it was. I shouldn't be surprised knowing that this is Pixar we are talking about and they are always usually consistently great with their animated films, but I was very surprised at just how much I got wrapped up with this film and the quirks that it had. The film was directed by Domee Shi who directed the short film "Bao" in 2018 that won her an Oscar and her feature film debut is something truly special. Much like Pixar's previous film "Luca", this film is very much more of a slice-of-life film and its main goal isn't that huge as Mei and her friends' big goal is to see 4*Town much like how Luca and Alberto were trying to get a Vespa. Where it differs from "Luca" though is its overall feel as this film is very zany and wild and it really is a lot of fun. The film is very manic and fast-paced, but it never came off as annoying to me or overbearing and had the right amount of control up to a very crazy climax and a beautiful finale. It also happens to be a very hilarious film as I found myself constantly bending over laughing at just how great the humor was. One of the funniest scenes in the film is where Mei starts to realize that like her friends, she too has a crush on the boy at the convenience store and starts to make very strange doodles in her journal. Soon enough, her mother finds out and the payoff is really funny and relatable. I should also talk about the themes and use of culture in this film because those were also top-notch. I deeply connected with the themes prevalent in the film, especially with Mei trying desperately to please her family and wondering what would happen if she let them down. It reminded me of Katie's struggles in "The Mitchells Vs. The Machines", another animated film I deeply resonated with.
The use of Chinese culture was also very beautiful and respectful and I think this is probably one of the best-animated films in recent memory to use Chinese culture to tell the story. As far as the animation goes, it once again is amazing as to be expected from Pixar. Also like "Luca", this film takes a more stylized approach to the animation with a less photorealistic look and more cartoony look and it works very well. It also happens to feel rooted in Studio Ghibli and Japanese anime, but whereas "Luca" felt much in the vein of Hayao Miyazaki, this film reminded me of the works of Isao Takahata like "Only Yesterday", "Pom Poko", "My Neighbors the Yamadas", and maybe a little dash of "The Tale of the Princess Kaguya". I especially loved a lot the little nuances the film had like Mei's pupils changing color whenever she gets angry as the red panda or their friends gushing whenever they see something that excites them. A lot of these quirks result in some of the funniest scenes in the film. I guess that should lead me into talking about the characters who are also fantastic. Mei is a terrific protagonist and one that I really related to. This isn't the first time Pixar has made a female character that has troubles with her mother since they did that with Merida in "Brave", but I was able to connect with Mei way more than I did for Merida. She's very strong, funny, and goofy and one I can see young girls really embracing. Even Mei's mother Ming was a great realized character who was doing what she felt right for her daughter even if she didn't know what she was doing could've been overboard. Mei's friends are also a lot of fun with quirky personalities, with Miriam being the nuanced and cool one, Abby who is just a barrel of energy, and Priya who despite being deadpan still has just excitement as the rest of her friends. These characters were just so much fun to watch and I loved them a whole lot.
Honestly, "Turning Red" was just an animated film I loved a whole lot. The story was relatable and very hilarious, the animation was beautiful and had fun quirks, and the characters all were lots of fun and memorable. This is another great example of just what titans Pixar Animation Studios is at making animated films and I cannot recommend this film enough. This really is another gem in their crown full of amazing films that I know will continue to grow into the future and this is certainly a film I will be returning to watch again and again.