Runtime: 100 minutes
Director Domee Shi
Writers: Domee Shi, Julia Cho, Sara Streicher
Cast: Rosalie Chiang, Sandra Oh, Ava Morse, Hyein Park, Maitreyi Ramakrishnan, Orion Lee, Tristan Allerick Chen, Ho-Wai Ching
By Joan Amenn
“Turning Red” trumpets a fresh, new creative voice among the already impressive Pixar team. Domee Shi won an Academy Award for her animated short film “Bao” in 2019 and now has a full-length feature film to her credit as well. As a freshman effort, it’s got remarkable style and a unique spin on the rather well tread theme of identity and acceptance.
Mei is brought to life with the excellent voice work of Rosalie Chiang as a thirteen-year-old ready to take the world by storm. At least that is what she projects around her friends and particularly for the gratification of her controlling mother, Ming (Sandra Oh.) The intricacies of a parent and their child trying to cope with the idea of growing independence are especially well played out in the relationship between Mei and Ming. However, her father Jin (Orion Lee) is given very little screentime so we don’t get to see much of his influence on Mei’s life.
Actually, there are many characters in “Turning Red” who seem to get short shrift in the development of the plot. Mei’s bevy of aunts are so beautifully rendered that I, for one, wanted to learn more about them individually and now I’m hoping for a Pixar short devoted to them.
The conflicts between Mei and Ming are a little too easily resolved, especially when they are linked to similar conflicts Ming had with her own mother, (Ho-Wai Ching). Also, Mei’s group of best friends are wonderfully voice acted by Ava Morse, Hyein Park and Maitreyi Ramakrishnan but we don’t learn much about them except for their collective obsession with the boy band 4Town.
Shi lovingly depicts Toronto as a colorful and culturally diverse, anime influenced wonderland. The choice of color palate (chiefly tones of red, obviously), and the detail of each little floof of a red panda’s fur (and there is a lot of fur flying here) is a joy to behold. The importance of celebrating one’s heritage while avoiding becoming restricted by dated expectations is an important theme that gets a little derailed in the broad comedy of the second act of the film.
While not one of the strongest Pixar offerings, Shi shows amazing skills in art direction and clever storyboarding of some complicated action scenes. After all, it’s not every day a giant red panda runs amok in Toronto. It will be interesting to see what Shi’s next project will be and it is to be hoped that Pixar will give it all the support it will surely deserve to see a major theatrical release as well as being streamed via Disney.