Sunday, March 13, 2022

Stubs - Turning Red

Turning Red (2022) Voices by Rosalie Chiang, Sandra Oh, Ava Morse, Hyein Park, Maitreyi Ramakrishnan, Orion Lee, Wai Ching Ho, Tristan Allerick Chen, James Hong Directed by Domee Shi. Screenplay by Julia Cho, Domee Shi. Produced by Lindsey Collins. Color. USA.Run time: 100 minutes. Animated, Coming of Age, Comedy, Fantasy.

Domee Shi, the winner of the Academy Award Winning Animated Short Bao (2018), is back with her first feature, Turning Red, an animated coming-of-age film set in 2002 Toronto. Meilin "Mei" Lee (Rosalie Chiang) is a 13-year-old Chinese-Canadian student prodigy with three close friends, Miriam (Ava Morse), Abby (Hyein Park), and Priya (Maitreyi Ramakrishnan), who accept her and love her. 

 Meilin "Mei" Lee (Rosalie Chiang) is a 13-year-old
Chinese-Canadian student prodigy n Turning Red.

Everything seems to come easy to Mei as she is smart, gifted, a violinist, and artist. However, nothing she does seems to be good enough for her helicopter mom from hell, Ming (Sandra Oh), whom Mei wants to please. Nothing too out of the ordinary really until one morning when Mei wakes up as a Giant Red Panda. After that nothing is the same for Mei.

Mei's friends Miriam (Ava Morse), Abby (Hyein Park),
 and Priya (Maitreyi Ramakrishnan) accept her as she is.

While it may seem like a curse to her mother, this transformation, whenever she becomes overly emotional, makes Mei more popular, which helps as she and her friends decide to attend a concert by the popular five-man boy band 4*Town, and Mei offers photos and appearances to raise money towards the $800 that it will cost for four tickets to the show. That becomes even more important to her than trying to cure herself of the Red Panda curse, which has plagued not only her mother but her grandmother and her four aunts.

The red panda is a metaphor for Mei's coming-of-age and her desire to break with the traditions and conformity of the past generations of her family. She doesn't shun the past but wants the option to set her own course for the future.

Turning Red may rely on some anime-style camera work and the director was inspired by Sailor Moon, but the film is not anime but a well-done computer-generated animation film from Pixar, which also produced Bao. The characters are very distinct, not only visually but vocally as well. Rosalie Chiang does a good job of making Mei seem like a real person. Jin Lee, Mei's father, voiced by Orion Lee, is perhaps the most subtle of the main characters, who has an unexpected influence on Mei. James Hong, one of the most prolific English-speaking actors of all time, brings his own brand of magic to Mr. Gao, a local elder who tries to help get Mei through the ritual to rid herself of the red panda.

It was sort of surprising to see that original songs for the film were written by Billie Ellish and her brother and fellow musician Finneas O'Connell. Take this as a backhanded compliment but their songs are just about as memorable as those that came out of the boy band craze, which means they are quite forgettable.

Turning Red is a well-made film, and while it may be the first Pixar film to explore the coming-of-age of a teenage girl, on its own it doesn't really break any new ground, save for the ethnicity of its main characters. Mei's struggle to find herself is similar to that of Katie Mitchell in The Mitchells vs. The Machines (2021), and that film pushes the animation envelope even more.

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