MOVIE REVIEWS

REVIEW: New Disney/Pixar animated movie ‘Turning Red’ explores the challenges of puberty and mother-daughter relationships

Mar 11, 2022, 9:08 AM | Updated: 1:19 pm

SALT LAKE CITY — The teenage years are pretty awkward for most everyone.  You’re self-conscious beyond belief, your body is changing, your emotions are, let’s just say, a lot more unpredictable.  But what if, in addition to all that, you also turned into a giant, red panda?

Disney and Pixar have decided to tackle teenage female puberty and mother-daughter relationships in their latest movie, Turning Red. It’s directed by , who previously made the Pixar short “Bao” (that’s the one where the mother treats a dumpling that comes to life as if it’s her son). Shi said when she made “Bao” that she’d need a full movie to explore a mother-daughter relationship, and now she has one.

THE STORY

Mei Lee (voice of Rosalie Chiang) is a kind-of dorky, but also confident, 13-year old Chinese Canadian girl living in Toronto back in the early 2000s. She’s torn between staying her mother’s dutiful daughter and the chaos and changes that adolescence brings. Her protective, if not slightly overbearing mother, Ming (voice of Sandra Oh), is never far from her daughter—an unfortunate reality for her (or any teenager).

After one particular episode where her mother embarrasses her in front of an older boy, Mei goes to bed angry and when she wakes up she has turned into a giant red panda. She’s confused and shocked but figures out that if she calms down, she can change back.  However, anytime she gets too excited or anxious, she “poofs” back into the panda.

When she finds out that this transformative ability is actually a family trait that was passed on to her, and that the other females in her family have chosen to separate themselves from it, she must decide if she’ll do the same. But Mei just might want to try to forge her own path and see if she can use the panda to her advantage.

THINGS I LIKED

Turning Red is a cute movie and the Pixar animators are still on top of their game, creating a colorful and accurate cartoon representation of the early 2000s. Mei, when she’s human, captures that enthusiasm and optimism many young people have as they head into their teen years.

My knowledge of and experience with Chinese culture is very limited so I can’t speak as to how accurately it portrays the nuances of the mother-daughter relationship in that culture, though it did hint at some deep layers there. But friction between parents and teenage children is pretty universal and I definitely felt a connection to both sides of that now that I have teenagers of my own.

I also liked all the little nods to early 2000s’ pop culture and the lack of constant phone use and video recording everything by teenagers.  That alone would drastically change how this story likely would have played out.

WARNINGS

Turning Red is rated PG for thematic material, suggestive content and language. Nothing parents need to fear, though your younger kids may ask some questions about what are these pads they mention and show a couple of times.

The run time is 1 hour and 40 minutes.

FINAL THOUGHTS

I don’t think it’ll come as a surprise when I say that I was NOT the target audience for this movie, never having been a teenage girl.  The imagery linking puberty to this panda transformation is not very subtle. I can honestly say I never expected to see feminine hygiene products animated in a Disney movie!

Nevertheless, it is Pixar who’s behind this, so they do their usual good job of incorporating universally understood and relatable themes. Turning Red manages to effectively capture the awkwardness and frustration of those formative years, both for the teenager as well as the parent of a teenager.

Final Rating: TWO & A HALF out of FOUR stars

WHERE TO WATCH

Turning Red is streaming exclusively to subscribers on Disney Plus.  There is no theatrical release on this one.


Hopefully you & your family found this review helpful! Andy Farnsworth does a weekly “What To Watch” segment for the KSL 5 Today morning news show and also hosts the Fan Effect podcast for KSL NewsRadio. Check out his other in-depth reviews of movies and streaming TV series on KSLTV.com.

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REVIEW: New Disney/Pixar animated movie ‘Turning Red’ explores the challenges of puberty and mother-daughter relationships