I had a strong negative reaction to Pixar’s “Turning Red,” which actually surprised me. This film has the gold standard animation and technical proficiency audiences have come to expect from the studio, but the story and characters leave much to be desired. Just because a film should be commended for featuring more diverse representation and attempting to shatter what many consider a taboo topic doesn’t automatically make it good. The end result is a film that’s trying too hard, feels like it’s aimed solely at giggling preteen girls, and features a very lazy metaphor for puberty and womanhood.
The film gets off to a shockingly rough start and if not for the quality of the visuals, it would quickly be indistinguishable from the garbage pile of other inferior animated movies. The script is thin, with screenwriters Julia Cho and Domee Shi telling the story of a dorky 13-year-old girl named Meilin (Rosalie Chiang) who is just starting to navigate the chaotic era of adolescence. Her protective mother Ming (Sandra Oh) is nosy, constantly hovering over her daughter. One night, Meilin discovers that whenever she gets too excited, she morphs into a giant red panda — and she gets excited a lot. It’s later revealed that this condition has plagued all women in her family, and the trick is being able to control it.
This thing is just plain weird. First, it features unexpected topics and themes for a Disney / Pixar movie. It may be startling for some to hear such frank conversations about menstruation and becoming a woman. This may be the first mainstream animated movie to feature feminine hygiene products. Kids too young won’t understand, but it may open the door to questions that some parents may not be ready to answer. It’s terrific that the film attempts to shatter taboos about women’s periods, but this is a bit of a surprising topic to see in an animated family movie. (I realize this may make me sound uptight and like a prude, but I assure you I am neither of those things; but I feel like parents should be aware).
I remember what it was like to be a 13 year old girl, and the film doesn’t accurately capture that age group. Meilin’s small group of friends are her ride-or-die besties, and all they dream of is going to see the hottest boy band on the planet. They sit around and swoon over photos of their celebrity crushes. This part of the story feels real, but so much of it does not.
The hardest thing for the movie to overcome (and sadly, it never does) is how extremely annoying Meilin’s character turns out to be. Not only does she have throwaway, groan-worthy lines like “my panda, my choice, mom!” (yes, really), but she is not a likeable little girl. Meilin may have an enviable confidence, but it’s not a good thing when your leading lady is super irritating. I couldn’t wait for “Turning Red” to end just so I didn’t have to spend time with her anymore.