You gotta give it to Pixar, when they decide to do something new, they approach it head on and go all the way. Although subtlety was never their strong suit, here “Turning Red’s” one big noticeable element is that it’s about as subtle as a brick on the head. With Domee Shi directing, “Turning Red” is a decidedly very Asian flavored coming of age film that’s drawn in the style of anime and Manga.
Thirteen-year-old Mei Mei is a girl torn between staying her mother’s dutiful daughter and the changes of adolescence that she realizes are creeping up on her. And as if the challenges were not enough, whenever she gets overly excited she transforms into a giant red panda.
The idea of heroine Mei Mei turning in to a red panda on the day she enters in to puberty is an obvious allegory for her entering in to a new phase of womanhood. “Turning Red” doesn’t stop there, delivering on the busy Tokyo pop tone, and wild visual expression, as well as appearances of Chibis every so often. One of “Turning Red’s” big problems is that it’s fuzzy if the whole aesthetic hinders or improves “Turning Red.”
Domee Shi’s direction is so unique and fun, but it can also overpower a lot of the emotions and or sentiment. Behind the kinetic jump shots and big over the top anime style expressions, “Turning Red” is a very sweet and good hearted story about moms and daughters. There’s also the inability some moms have to let go of their daughters, and how dangerous the world can be for women of all ages. I am a big fan of Domee Shi’s direction (her short “Bao” is brilliant) and she’s complimented by the stirring voice work by the collective cast.
Rosalie Chiang does a bang up job as the film’s hero Mei Mei, working so well off of co-star Sandra Oh. “Turning Red” isn’t the worst Pixar movie, and Shi is the perfect fit for the intent behind the ideas and themes of the story. Shi has a lot to say about the importance of some rituals to the Asian culture. And those stories deserve to be told and experienced. I just wish “Turning Red” had balanced out the over the top visuals and subtle coming of age story so much better.