Sunday, February 11, 2024

Review: Pixar's "TURNING RED" is Universal and Unique

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 8 of 2024 (No. 1952) by Leroy Douresseaux

Turning Red (2022)
Running time:  100 minutes (1 hour, 40 minutes)
MPA –  PG for thematic material, suggestive content and language
DIRECTOR:  Domee Shi
WRITERS:  Domee Shi and Julie Cho; from a story by Domee Shi, Julie Cho, and Sarah Streicher
PRODUCER:  Lindsey Collins
CINEMATOGRAPHERS:  Mahyar Abousaeedi and Jonathan Pytko
EDITORS:  Nicholas C. Smith with Steve Bloom
COMPOSER: Ludwig Goransson
SONGS: Billie Eilish and Finneas O'Connell
Academy Award nominee


Starring:  (voices) Rosalie Chiang, Sandra Oh, Ava Morse, Hyein Park, Maitreyi Ramakrishnan, Orion Lee, Wai Ching Ho, Tristan Allerick Chen, Jordan Fisher, Finneas O'Connell, and James Hong

Turning Red is a 2022 animated fantasy and comedy-drama film directed by Domee Shi and produced by Pixar Animation Studios.  It is Pixar's 25th full-length animated feature film, and it is the first to be solely directed by a woman.  Turning Red focuses on a teen girl who is dealing with her demanding mother and the changes of adolescence when she suddenly discovers that becoming really excited causes her to turn into a giant red panda.

Turning Red opens in Toronto, Ontario, Canada in 2002.  It introduces a Chinese-Canadian girl, 13-year-old Meilin “Mei” Lee (Rosalie Chiang).  She lives with her parents, mother Ming (Sandra Oh) and father Jin (Orion Lee).  Mei is a dutiful daughter to her mother who calls her “Mei-Mei,” and she helps take care of the family's temple, “the Lee Family Temple,” one of the the oldest temples in Toronto.  The temple honors the Lee family ancestors instead of gods, and it is dedicated to Mei's maternal ancestor Sun Yee.

Mei is also dedicated to a trio of girl friends:  Miriam (Ava Morse), Priya (Maitreyi Ramakrishnan), and Abby (Hyein Park), and all three of them are dedicated fans of the boy band, “4*Town.”  Life is busy, but it's about to get complicated.  The morning after a night of humiliation, Mei wakes up to discover that she has been transformed into a giant red panda.  This is a condition that happens when Mei is overly excited, but it can be cured.  But what does Mei really want?

In the early days of the Disney+ streaming service and in the COVID-19 pandemic, the Walt Disney Company released three Pixar feature films as direct-to-streaming releases:  Soul (2020), Luca (2021), and Turning Red, declining wide theatrical releases for the films.  These were and still are three of Pixar's greatest films, but they are finally getting belated theatrical releases in early 2024.  [Soul in January 2024; Turning Red in February 2024; and Luca in March 2024.]

Turning Red is an incredible coming-of-age story, and like Pixar's Oscar-winning Brave (2012), it is a story of transformations and of mother-daughter relationships and all the love and support and trials and tribulations that come with it.  Its beautiful, terracotta-like colors amplify the film's sense of magic and magical realism.  The variety of faces, body types, skin colors, hair styles, and clothes and costumes are a testament of how culturally expansive Pixar's films set in the human world are.  Everything about Turning Red invites the entire world of moviegoers to come along on this timeless, universal tale of a child coming into her own and learning to love herself as she is becoming and to love her parents for what they were, are, and can be.

Domee Shi and her co-writers, Julie Cho and Sarah Streicher, have created a character, a world, and a scenario of which I believe I can be a part.  I am an old-ass Black man, a million miles away from a 13-year-old Canadian girl of Chinese descent, but Turning Red makes me understand that what the girl experiences are in some ways similar to what I've experienced.  In a way, I am jealous of Turning Red and of Meilin Lee because I could never embrace the messy strangeness in me to the extent that she does.  I definitely did not want my freak flag fluttering in the wind too much.

There is so much to like in this film.  As usual, the animation is up to Pixar's astronomical standards, and Ludwig Goransson's score infuses itself into the film so much that it seems as if the animation is performing a concert.  Speaking of music, I'm embarrassed to admit that I like 4*Town, the band, and its three songs performed in the movie, which are written by the sister-brother team of Billie Eilish and Finneas O'Connell.  And I couldn't love the movie if I wasn't crazy about actress Rosalie Chiang's multi-layered and energetic voice performance as Mei.  Chiang makes Mei feel like a real girl, genuine child in the throes of change and transformation.

Some have said that Turning Red's setting and its lead character, Mei, make the film not timeless and universal like Pixar's other films.  They can go screw themselves.  Turning Red is universal like other Pixar films and also unlike other Pixar films.  Turning Red is Pixar high art and Disney magic, and it is a truly great film that I plan on watching again and again.

10 of 10

Sunday, February 11, 2024

2023 Academy Awards, USA:  1 nomination: “Best Animated Feature Film” (Domee Shi and Lindsey Collins)

2023 BAFTA Film Awards:  1 nominee: “Best Animated Feature Film” (Domee Shi and Lindsey Collins)

2023 Golden Globes, USA:  1 nominee:  “Best Motion Picture – Animated”

2023 Image Awards (NAACP):  1 nominee: “Outstanding Animated Motion Picture”

The text is copyright © 2024 Leroy Douresseaux. All Rights Reserved.  Contact this blog or site for reprint and syndication rights and fees.



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