Thirteen-year-old Mei Lee talks about her amazing life while on her way to school. She is practically perfect in academics, acing every assignment and exam. She also has a great relationship with her family, including her overbearing, but caring, mother. Everything goes well… until her friends, Miriam, Priya, and Abby, have a crush on the convenience store clerk, Devon. Resistant to him at first, Mei discovers that she also has strong feelings for him and draws pictures of him in her diary. Her mom stumbles across it, sees the pictures, and yells at Devon.
Mei has nightmares, which leads her to turning into a red panda. Humiliated, she hides from her mom. Although that succeeds, when other students pick on her during class, Mei transforms into the red panda again, and is devastated as to why this happens. Her mom reveals the reason she experiences this: their ancestor, Sun Yee, had requested a gift from the deities to turn into a red panda during a war in order to protect her children. Angry about this, Mei works on staying calm. Yet, she also wants to see the band 4*town in concert with her friends – which her parents say, “No,” to.
As the story progresses, Mei’s red panda transformation leads to positive moments with her peers as they raise money to see 4*town, playing in a few weeks – only for it to happen the same night as her family’s ritual to remove her panda-transformation power. Mei has to make a decision soon on whether or not she will remove her curse to turn into a red panda.
From the very beginning, I enjoyed this film a lot. The concept of an Asian-Canadian girl living her normal life in Toronto until she turns into a red panda when her emotions get extreme is very unique. This is also the first Pixar film for the main character to break the fourth-wall, where she talks directly to the viewers.
All the characters were likable, even Mei’s mom. When she’s first introduced, she feels sorry for Mei coming home late, and offers her some snacks. There were also a few times when Mei’s mom embarrassed her, including at school. The Sikh security guard had to keep chasing her away. That amused me.
Of course, Mei’s mom wasn’t likable at times, such as when she criticized 4*Town in front of Mei a few times, and especially when she harshly forbade Mei to attend the 4*Town Concert. But hey, every character has to have flaws.
Mei’s relationships with Miriam, Priya, and Abby, were fun and sweet at the same time. Each of her friends had unique personalities.
Miriam was a little bit sophisticated, but enthusiastic at the same time. Priya was a bit dull in her personality, but still caring. And Abby was energetic and sometimes silly.
There is also no villain in this movie, which is a trend that Disney has introduced in recent years, straying away from their traditions in storytelling. Rather, the “villains” are just good characters that won’t let the protagonists achieve their goals or and/or don’t understand them. I actually admire this idea.
I also found it interesting that the story is set in 2002 instead of contemporary times. That being said, seeing characters use flip phones, video cameras, and other outdated technology felt a little bit strange for me. Audiences would likely have expected to see smartphones, apps, and social media, since that is what we use today. I’ve always wondered how “Turning Red” would have turned out if it were set in contemporary times with technology we use today, and if that would have resulted in positive or negative changes to the movie.
However, I am a firm believer that creators should get to set their stories in whatever setting they please. In fact, I wish it were seen as educating instead of a bug or awkward.
In spite of that, I found out that there is a reason that “Turning Red” is set in 2002. That is because the creators wanted to make it set during a boy band era, since 4*town, the band Mei and her friends yearn to see, plays an important role in the story. And boy bands were popular in the late 90’s and early 00’s.
However, their popularity continued after that. There were the Jonas Brothers in the late 00’s, One Direction in the 2010’s, and more.
Anyway, although I loved this movie, I did notice some mature content, such as an alternative word for “crud.” Many parents of young children found this film inappropriate as it discusses puberty, menstruation, and pads. But since I’m an adult, those are not issues for me.
I also admired the multiple twists and turns that occurred throughout “Turning Red.” Those are always exciting. See the film to find out the surprises.
I would gladly rate this movie 5 out of 5 stars.