The digital animation geniuses at Pixar are back with “Turning Red” and it marks a departure for the studio known for the “Toy Story” and “Cars”, franchises.
Set in 1990s Toronto, the film centers around 8th grader Mei (Rosalie Chiang), who considers herself an adult at 13 and eagerly applies herself to school when she is not helping her family tour business at a local Temple or hanging with her friends.
Life comes crashing to a halt when after a traumatic day of embarrassment; Mei awakens in the form of a large Red Panda. In a panic, Mei attempts to hide her situation which causes her over-protective mother to assume it is Puberty related and that her hormones are kicking in.
Mei desperately wants to get her life back to normal and learns that as long as she is calm her Panda is under control. However, this proves to be harder than expected and soon Mei learns that the Panda is the result of a family bloodline but there is a way to end it during a Lunar ceremony in a couple of weeks.
Chaos soon follows as Mei struggles with her situation and must find a way to cope with the changes that are going on and make some very important decisions about her life and her future.
The film is a difficult one to review for me as never having been a teenage girl dealing with puberty, raging estrogen, and the issues that go with it. That being said the film struggles to find a balance as it tacks on the capers of Mei in Panda form without being overly funny or charming and keeps the focus on Teen Angst, puberty-related issues and becoming an adult.
The film lacks the interesting characters, charm, and appeal that have set the foundation for so many Pixar films and it is surprising that a company that can elicit a range of emotions in an animated short fail to really connect with their latest feature. There were some amusing parts but the film as a whole was rather dull and lacked much in the way of humor and was very predictable.
The decision to put the film directly on Disney+ as the studio’s recent “Soul” and “Luca” was raised some controversy but in the end, I do believe it was the right decision as “Turning Red” is not likely to be a film that draws people to the cinema beyond the opening weekend.
It is a film that is a bold step for the company, but one that lacks the charm and humor of previous films as not everyone is going to want to sit through a feature-length film on teenage angst and dealing with changing bodies and the emotional turmoil that follows. However, the target audience is likely to connect with the characters and it will be interesting to see what the reaction to the film is long-term.
3 stars out of 5
“Turning Red” will debut on Disney+ on March 11th