“A very enterprising, mildly annoying young lady” a character hilariously sums up Meilin, the 13-year-old protagonist of 2022 animated film ‘Turning Red’. This film is so freaking cute… maybe it’s going to be difficult to write an objective review!
Domee Shi who made the adorable award-winning animated short ‘Bao’, has directed this film and co-written the story with Julia Cho and Sarah Streitcher. This women led production is fuzzily heavy on fun female friendships and girl-power.
Plot overview – ‘Straight A’ student Meilin does everything her mom wants, but that changes when she wakes up one day to find herself transformed into a red panda. The beast has an intriguing mythological origin and shows up every time the host is overpowered by emotions, so if Meilin calms down, she turns back into her human self. With the support of her best-friends, she is able to channel the red panda in fun ways behind her family’s back. But what happens when the strict overbearing mom finds out?
First things first – the animation is colorful and catchy, a blend of the classic Pixar art style along with elements of Japanese anime. The big-eyed characters, bright clothes and sunny backgrounds help set an uplifting tone throughout the film. The teddy-bear like red Panda is definitely the show-stopper. Just like all the kids in the story fall in love with the animal side of Meilin, viewers with soft-corners for furry beings would be melting.
Domee Shi and team subtly and humorously explore dynamics between dominating parents and pliant children – how pushing one to excel in everything can lead to eventual estrangement. It starts with teens compartmentalizing their lives, a different version at home, and another at school. Meilin is an over-achiever, who gets 100/100 on math, plays the flute like a pro, speaks French, helps her mom run their family temple after school… but she is also a regular teen with a bunch of goofy/dorky girlfriends (Abby is the cutest btw) and they all love dancing, singing, listening to boy-bands and crushing on the cute ones. The ‘overachieving’ bit is going to be relatable to very few viewers, but haven’t we all had a teen version of ourselves our parents were completely clueless about? So the ‘Panda’ is really a metaphor for our ‘inner true selves’.
I loved the fact this the story was set in 2002, a pre-social media era, when friends would swap their favorite CDs, have actual conversations instead of browsing their phones while sitting next to each other. And yet, ‘Turning Red’ isn’t stuck in some time-capsule, it feels fresh and contemporary, even with all the Asian mythological and cultural quirks that the makers weave into the tale.
It’s a well-paced film, where the tempo never dips and things keep happening. The climax isn’t as emotional as most Disney films tend to be, but things do get a little heavy on the heart. Instead of a idealistic ending, there’s a more realistic closure to Meilin’s adventures as her new transfiguring self. There’s definitely scope for a sequel, or a prequel, or an entire spin-off series!
It’s a 8/10 from me. The film is streaming on Disney Hotstar Premium.
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