REVIEW: ‘Turning Red’; A Nice Coming of Age Story that Tackles Some Deep Issues

Sometimes you are looking forward to seeing a movie. You have really high expectations, the trailers were great, and then once the film is over, you leave feeling disappointed. Then there are other times when you are convinced that a film is going to be an absolute train-wreck. The trailers are awful, the marketing does nothing for you, but once the film is over, you end up saying to yourself, that was actually a lot better than what I was expecting. “Turning Red” is without a doubt the latter. I wouldn’t label it a Pixar classic, but it’s got its moments.

Surprisingly, this movie can be funny, real, and at times, very deep. I really want to commend the writers for bringing in real world issues that many people have struggled with throughout most of their lives. I think the movie can help children and adults overcome certain debilitating issues that they have struggled with, especially with the subject of acceptance and being open to their family and friends.

The mother in this movie can be somewhat of a narcissist and sometimes an over controlling mother from hell. When Mei is getting good grades and behaving like her mother expects her to, the mother is very nice, loving, and proud of her daughter. But once Mei steps out of line, or does not meet her mother’s expectations, you see a different side of the mother, which greatly affects Mei. In the real world, parents like these exist and it greatly affects the child’s life. If not addressed properly, this can lead to a never-ending cycle that will impact generations of children that come after them. And who knows, maybe seeing this for some may make them realize that their life mirrors what’s on the screen and it may open their eyes and result in an end to this behavior. I want to point out that the mother in this film is not evil. She’s not. Without a doubt the mother loves Mei, but she just needs to be more accepting, less controlling of her daughter, and understand the concept of boundaries.

Mei and her friends are typical teenage girls. They love boy bands. They love hanging out together. And their parents don’t necessarily understand them. Mei and her friends all have different characteristics, like you would see with most kids, but there is something that brings them together that makes them best friends. School life is never easy and sometimes you have to deal with either bullies or kids that just want to make your life miserable. One thing about Mei’s friends is that they have her back in times of trouble. And who cares if Mei is a giant red panda, she is still Mei to her friends. Depending on the success of this film, I could see them giving Mei and her friends a Disney+ spinoff series.

My favorite part about Mei is that she is far from perfect. I sometimes see movies where they try to elevate a character and they just make them so perfect that it turns you off. Yes, there are strong and brave girls and boys in the world, but not all of them are. This girl is constantly making mistakes and is very awkward. Mei also respects her family and her heritage. She wants to please her family so much, even if it means sacrificing her own happiness at times. No kid is perfect. Growing up, most kids are confused and have to deal with failure and rejection. It’s great that kids get to see someone like this on the screen. I’m not saying there never were characters like this before, but just lately, kids movies have been used to emphasize that even though the character may have struggles, they always overcome them because they are perfect.

One of the problems that I had with the film is that they could have trimmed about fifteen minutes off of this film and it would have been much tighter. Another negative for me is the giant red panda itself. I think the movie could have still worked without Mei turning into a giant red panda. The main part of the story is growing up and being torn between not upsetting your family and doing things that make you happy. You don’t need a giant red panda to convey that narrative. I think if the panda could have been left out, and if the story was worked on a little more, it may have been something really special. However, they don’t hide from the fact that the giant red panda is also symbolic of a certain part of puberty. Maybe they felt it was important to keep in the character because it represented some kind of artistic expression of what a young girl may go through during that time in her life. The animation is good, but it’s no “Raya and the Last Dragon.” Characters look more abstract than realistic, and the only thing that people might be impressed with is maybe the individual hairs on the panda.

This movie is probably not for everyone. I think the target audience is more around the age of the characters themselves. But I think this movie will speak to a lot of people, regardless of what age they are. The end really conveys a wonderful message. If you truly love someone, you will accept them for who they are and allow them to be who they are meant to be, not who you want them to be.

I give “Turning Red” a 7.5/10.