Turning Red


‘…a bright, breezy, original movie, but a shame that this won’t be pitched to the adult audience who enjoyed Up or Inside Out…’

Whatever happened to Pixar? Once the animation giant’s success dwarfed Disney; in 2022, they seem to be the straight-to-home-entertainment arm of the Mousehouse, providing exclusive content for their streaming channel rather than cinema releases. With Sing 2 recently bringing in $360+ million to date, it seems a shame that Domee Shee’s family movie is following Soul and Luca in barely seeing the inside of cinemas at all; virus or not, dropping the $175 million movie directly onto the Disney+ channel suggests a lack of confidence in the material.

Which is a shame, because Shee’s movie is aiming for something different from the norm; it’s a film specifically about puberty, but not the usual boys and their toys. Back in 2002, Toronto teenager Mei Lee (Rosalie Chiang) is a Chinese/American girl who discovers that her increasing emotional outbursts cause her to metamorphose into a giant furry red panda. Her mother Ming (Sandra Oh) recognises this as being a family trait that both she and Mei’s grandmother shared, and tries to minimise her daughter’s discomfort. But Mei just wants to have fun, and a mates-trip to see boy-band 4*Town at the Skydome happens to coincide with a family ritual, leaving Mei with a dilemma…

‘I like boys, I like loud music and I like gyrating,’ says Mei; by tapping into familiar traits, Turning Red aims to locate a drama firmly within the balance of peer pressure vs listening to your family, although a sub-plot about monitising your internet presence doesn’t seem right for the 2002 setting. ‘This isn’t about going to a concert, this is about taking your first steps towards woman-hood,’ another character bluntly points out in case we haven’t got the point. Even a sunny Pixar movie needs conflict, and once we discover that Mei’s family all share her abilities, it’s clear what the moral lessons are likely to be; the opening scene underlines the message ‘honour your ancestors’ several times with one cynical eye on finding the sweet-spot for a potential Chinese release.

Turning Red doesn’t have much politics; the title might suggest leaning into communism, but there’s no geo-political content here. Instead, there’s some very 2022 wokeness; Mei’s first public transformation is caused by seeing her mother at the classroom window with a set of menstrual pads, an event that shames her into combusting and reassembling in hormonal panda form. “My panda, my choice,’ is the final takeaway here; owning who you are and your responsibilities is the moral, and Turning Red just about gets that message across. It’s a breezy, original movie, but something of a shame that this won’t be pitched to the adult audience who enjoyed Up or Inside Out; Pixar seem to have been on Disney’s naughty step for some time, and unlike it’s likeable heroine, Turning Red seems to have limited options for finding success.


Leave a Reply
  1. Have seen an animated feature in more than a decade. Don’t know why because I certainly enjoyed the Pixar pix and the revitalised Disney efforts. But if it ain’t on the big screen I won’t see this. Does seem a shame that Disney is sacrificing moviegoing for streaming though.

    • It is a shame for sure, but is does feel like Disney are using Pixar’s films as cannon fodder in the streaming wars; that’s three in a row…

  2. the title might suggest leaning into communism, but there’s no geo-political content here.

    Yeahhhhhhh sure there isn’t. Communists are sneaky like that.

    But I’ll definitely be taking a pass. Movies about periods are not something I want to watch, period!

  3. I’d been noticing this getting good reviews but never bothered reading them because I was pretty sure it wouldn’t appeal to me. Now that I know what it’s about . . . boy it doesn’t appeal to me. Honestly, this is the hardest pass and biggest nope of the year, and it’s only March.

    • OK, Life & Beth it is for you, then…it seems odd to me that they’d go so far with this concept, and then dump it straight to streaming, where the film is rather diminished by Disney’s lack of confidence that people would go to a cinema and see it. With Disney putting Eternals and Encanto into cinemas, but dropping the last three Pixar’s on streaming, it feels like there’s some tension there…if animations like Sing 2 can clean up during a pandemic, why not this? Mixed messaging for sure…

      • I’m just going off the review here, but this is about a girl who turns into a giant red monster when she has her period? So it’s got that girl power message about ending period shame, mixed with some panda-ring to the Chinese market and some generic woke messaging? I can see critics giving it a tongue bath but I can’t imagine real people wanting to see this, especially with a bunch of friends (the cinema experience).

        • It looks like Disney made the same calculation, but there’s no reason that movies about puberty should be from a male POV. That plus aside, having the main character explode with shame when a sanitary towel is shown feels rather counter-productive. The references to sex and drugs may also be an road-block to family audiences going to see this; whether you dig the wokeness or not, the half-hearted release kinda dooms this from the start.

Leave a Reply