REVIEW: After watching films like Kung Fu Panda where the main protagonist fights the odd ones out after becoming a martial arts expert, we need to add the red panda to the list now. Based in Toronto, this red panda stands out (not because of its colour) as it emerges from Mei Lee, an officially grown-up 13-year-old teen who is overly enthusiastic, astonishingly ambitious and completely unafraid to be herself. She is a devoted daughter who helps her mother, Ming, after school at one of Toronto’s oldest temples. Majorly, the young girl’s life revolves around her parents and her besties—Miriam, Priya and Abby. On a fateful night, Mei Lee undergoes an unusual transformation, and her world is turned completely upside down when she involuntarily transforms into a gigantic red panda. Mei learns that her family has a mysterious connection to red pandas, and she transforms into this massive creature whenever she becomes excited (which is practically always) or experiences extreme emotions. Will she be able to adjust to her new self? Will her friends and family accept her in her current state?
Disney-Pixar has repeatedly raised the bar of animated movies by telling stories that would appeal to children and adults alike. And ‘Turning Red’ is one of those anime that is a vibrant, colourful and funny adventure about friendship and the innocence of childhood. Speaking of visuals and 3D, it’s an out-and-out visual treat that tugs at your heartstrings with its simple yet beautifully narrated slice-of-life tale.
Domee Shi’s first feature film, ‘Turning Red,’ follows her directorial debut with the 2018 short film ‘Bao.’ The animation is delightful without being over-the-top and the co-writers (Shi, Julia Cho and Sarah Streicher) send out a loud and clear message: we all have our inner animals, and we must learn to deal with them and our emotions in order to harness their power for our own benefit. Furthermore, it openly discusses topics like the girls’ first period, without being hesitant or portraying it as a taboo subject. Instead, the way the story progresses will undoubtedly strike a chord with everyone. Following Mei’s journey will allow you to understand her emotions and desire for freedom while being watched over by her overbearing but loving mother.
Rosalie Chiang is the voice behind the lead character Mei Lee, who is strong-willed and enthusiastic. She and her friends, like every other teenage girl, are obsessed with the ‘4 Town’ band—which is more or less inspired by Backstreet Boys and other popular hot boy bands from that time—and they share CDs and collect photos and magazines of the band members, which will resonate with youth. Sandra Oh (known for her role as Eve Polastri of Killing Eve) voices Mei Lee’s overprotective mother, Ming, who keeps a close eye on her daughter around the clock. Overall, the voice acting by Rosalie and Sandra is strong and impactful.
Writer-director Domee Shi has given enough space to even the supporting characters as well. Ava Morse voices Miriam, Mei’s brace-faced bestie. Maitreyi Ramakrishnan (known as Devi Vishwakumar from ‘Never Have I Ever’) voices for a poker-faced character, Priya and Hyein Park voiced her overly excited pal, Abby. Most importantly, the girls adore each other through thick and thin.
Similar to Disney and Pixar’s other films, ‘Turning Red’ is infused with enough humour, colourful visuals and takes its characters on a large adventure while entertaining and getting the audience of all ages emotionally invested. This coming-of-age tale will undoubtedly touch your heart and leave you feeling warm on the inside. Enjoy!