“Turning Red” is Pixar’s best in more than a decade

“Turning Red” is Pixar’s best in more than a decade

Peyton Cook @pncook02

“Turning Red” is Pixar’s best in more than a decade

As someone who has been mostly jaded with Disney and Pixar’s animated efforts in the past few years (aside from occasional standouts like 2020’s “Soul”), the early buzz surrounding “Turning Red” admittedly had me excited. But with Disney having released 3 animated features in just the last year, with none of them particularly resonating with me, I went in with cautious optimism.  

“Turning Red” is by far one of the most original, progressive, and charming animated films I have seen in years and is a film I will happily be recommending for years to come as one of Pixar’s very best.

The film is by Chinese director Domee Shi, who previously won an Academy Award for her Pixar short “Bao” in 2019. This was her first directorial effort on a feature length film. 

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The film follows Meilin, a Chinese Canadian 13-year-old girl, who is trying to find her place in the world. It is set in the early 2000s, most importantly at the peak of America’s boy band craze. Just as she is seeming to come into her own, overnight she undergoes a transformation in which she turns into a giant red panda anytime she feels intense emotion. 

The film uses the red panda as a vessel to talk about a frankly miraculous number of sensitive subjects. Throughout the film, the panda comes to represent menstruation, puberty, angst, rebellion, individualism, heritage and the expectation of others. This, in and of itself, is representative of the best things that Pixar can do with the medium: Taking something that’s simple, harmless and fantastical, to talk about things that may be touchy or sensitive for some parents or children. 

The film is so successful in this that, as a white, male, 21-year-old, I found it to be one of the most relatable films I have seen in years. Despite it being a hyper-specific character and scenario, they use this in a way that practically anyone can find something to connect with, without detracting from its representation of the minority groups at its center. 

Another new frontier that the film represents for Disney, is its refusal to sugar coat a lot of subjects as well. While it still functions as sweet and fun family film, it doesn’t hold back when directly calling out things like periods, drugs, and sexual innuendo. This is something I found extremely refreshing, because in order to break down the taboos that many films attempt to, you can’t hide all of them behind metaphor and symbolism. 

For these reasons, I found it equally frustrating that the film got pushed to a streaming only release, seemingly at the last minute. The film had a full marketing push for a theatrical release in the months prior, but due to what was stated as rising cases of the COVID-19 Omicron variant, it was released exclusively on Disney Plus. 

While this reasoning is understandable, it begs the question why the release date was not just pushed, as Disney has done for all its Marvel theatrical releases. “Turning Red” is the third film to experience this shift, the other being 2021’s “Luca” and 2020’s “Soul.” The shift to streaming, as well as for the other films, caused a lot of backlash, because it mostly guarantees that it will not be as financially successful as if it had a theatrical release. 

Disney’s quick decisions to push these more original and progressive projects to streaming, but not their larger crowd-pleasing ones, has fans skeptical to say the very least. It begs the question that Disney might be afraid of the potential blow back from more conservative audiences due to its taboo subjects. 

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Even with its Disney Plus release, the film has not been spared from rigorous critique from parents and animation fans alike. Even before its release, some people called out the film’s animation, which was a large departure from Pixar’s typical aesthetics. Many called it out for looking “ugly” or “cheap”. While others critiqued it for showing (barely) sexualized sequences involving the teen girls, calling it a bad influence. While both notions are quite preposterous, it has been a source of discussion, nevertheless. 

Which brings me to one of my absolute favorite aspects of the film, the animation. While Pixar has been the leading force in the animation industry for decades, “Turning Red” still manages to impress with its new, highly emotive style. 

I have watched the film twice since its release and found that on a second watch, I was able to just study and marvel at the animation alone. Each character has their own different nuanced body language and different emotions hold different effects that are used expertly. 

When a character is overwhelmed, at times you can see them subtly shaking or their eyes will change shape in response to something they see. The fantastical elements of the red panda benefit from these techniques as well, with Mei completely changing in design if she’s happy, angry, or sad. The animation is also complemented by the film’s beautiful color palette, filled with bright eye-catching landscapes and set pieces.

The score impresses as well, done by composer Ludwig Göransson. It blends traditional orchestral work with electronic music, as well as traditional Chinese instruments. This works perfectly at representing the film’s blend of traditional Chinese culture and its clash with Meilin’s modern ideals. While it also boasts some shamelessly catchy pop hits made for the film’s fictional boy band “4*Town”. These original songs were written by Grammy winning musicians Billie Eilish and Finneas O’Connell. 

Overall, “Turning Red” is an extremely fun, heartwarming and exciting take on coming of age that isn’t afraid to touch on all the embarrassing and awkward parts just as much as the good ones. Whether it’s dealing with the cyclical trauma of your heritage, parent’s traditional values, self-doubt or having “the talk”, it does it all with an infectious authenticity. 

Staff reporter Zaden Dennis can be reached at [email protected] and you can find his other reviews at letterboxd.com/Zadenator. To stay up to date with all your Southern Illinois news follow the Daily Egyptian on Facebook and Twitter.

 

 

 

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