Turning Red review – another Pixar masterclass as the studio tackles a teen taboo

March 11, 2022
Adam Lock 0
Disney+, Film Reviews, Streaming Service


Pixar have done it again, family-friendly fun that addresses an awkward part of growing up in an exceptional and reassuring way.



Pixar have done it again, family-friendly fun that addresses an awkward part of growing up in an exceptional and reassuring way.

This review of the Disney+ animated film Turning Red does not contain spoilers.

Due to Covid19 and the pandemic’s subsequent disruption to cinema releases, this marks the third Pixar film in a row to be released almost exclusively on Disney+, with a very limited cinematic run. The twenty-fifth feature-length from the masters of animation would make for a wonderful cinematic experience, but families can comfortably appreciate this joyous film in the safety of their own homes instead.

Turning Red is the directorial debut from Domee Shi, who wowed us with the moving Pixar short Bao back in 2018. Being the first sole female director on a Pixar movie (Brenda Chapman co-directed Brave), she brings a much-needed female perspective and her own cultural heritage to proceedings. The film is set in early noughties Toronto, focusing on a Chinese Canadian family, who runs a local temple. It feels like an acutely personal story, close to Domee Shi’s heart, one that capitalizes on a great concept to tell a universal fable.

Daughter Mei Lee assists her mother at the temple. She is a smart, well-behaved thirteen-year-old on the cusp of womanhood. Mei has just discovered ‘boys’ and obsesses over the satirized boyband 4*Town. In true Disney fashion, some magical voodoo takes place and Mei wakes up transformed into a giant red panda. This makes for a perfect analogy of puberty and particularly menstruation. Such a clever and concise concept, Mei now perceives herself as ugly, smelly, chubby, and hairy. She calls herself a ‘gross red monster’, reflecting on how she feels both internally and externally. Pixar have created a reassuring and subtle metaphor for a taboo topic in young females’ lives, what a feat!

Waking to this horrifying transformation, Mei rushes into the bathroom and screams at her own reflection. Overbearing mother Ming Lee (voiced by Sandra Oh) rushes to her side, worried her daughter has started her period early. An embarrassed Mei tells her to go away as she hides in the shower. Mei learns to control the beast within and struggles through another day at school, yet further predicaments look set to ruin this teen’s cursed life.

As always there is gorgeous animation from Pixar and the movie is a worthy addition to an already exemplary filmography. Shi is inventive and original with her direction, including some much-needed anime representation, with those hilarious puppy dog eyes and trademark fight visuals. The offbeat, creative flair reminded me of Netflix’s The Mitchells vs The Machines, which also tapped into family togetherness, teen culture, and a whole host of animation styles.

Turning Red is an absolute joy. The filmmakers take a unique concept and just run with it, crafting a fun fantasy, which addresses important teen issues in a reassuring way. Domee Shi is evidently a talented director, bringing an innovative point of view to an already legendary studio. This is family-friendly fun that embraces an awkward part of growing up in a meaningful way.

What did you think of the Disney+ animated film Turning Red? Comment below. 

You can watch this film with a subscription to Disney+.

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