Review by Sean Boelman
Pixar is known for making animated films that resonate with children and adults alike, and their newest movie Turning Red definitely fits that bill. A charming coming-of-age story, this may essentially be a better version of last year’s Luca, but it is still the first great family film of 2022 nonetheless.
The movie follows a boy band-obsessed teenage girl who discovers that she turns into a giant red panda anytime she experiences an extreme emotion. Like much of Pixar’s recent output, this is definitely older-skewing in terms of the themes it explores, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t plenty here for younger generations to enjoy.
Although the central metaphor is quite obvious, it still works because of how earnestly Julia Cho and Domee Shi approach it. However, the better aspect of the film is that which explores how the protagonist comes to terms with her cultural identity. Pixar’s shift towards more diverse storytelling has resulted in some of the more personal movies in their catalog, and it works well.
One of the other things that works really well about the movie is that it is genuinely funny. The boy band aspect of the film works extraordinarily well, and perhaps more surprisingly, never grows monotonous. The only frustrating thing about the movie is that the third act goes way too big compared to the generally restrained first two thirds.
There is no doubt that the audience will easily be endeared to the characters even though their arcs are pretty standard. The relationships that the protagonist has with her friends and her mother provide a very good emotional core for the film and adds an extra layer of resonance to the story.
Something else that makes this movie special is that the voice cast is made up primarily of relative unknowns. Sandra Oh, James Hong, and Finneas O’Connell all have supporting roles, but the main roles are all played by newcomers. And Rosalie Chiang does a great job as the lead of the film.
The animation is as great as one would expect from a Pixar movie. But this has an extra layer of visual energy that is infused by Shi’s voice. It’s playful and fun, and that is what makes it stand out from other similar films that have come out in the past. And an original song by Billie Eilish and Finneas is beyond catchy and will achieve some great success.
Turning Red may hit a lot of familiar beats, but the way in which it hits them is refreshingly energetic and delightful. It’s another in a long stream of successes from Pixar’s more diversity-oriented recent outings.
Turning Red hits Disney+ on March 11.