Turning Red sees 13-year-old Mei (voiced by Rosalie Chiang) a hardworking student torn between her loyalty to her friends and her obligation her overbearing mother. After an embarrassing showdown between her mother and a boy Mei has a crush on, Mei wakes up the next morning transformed into a giant red panda. Hijinks ensure as Mei learns to navigate her emotions, reputation with family, and social life.
Chiang and the rest of the talented voice cast make this an enjoyable experience. Each of the actors breathe life into their characters with such earnestness that most of the interactions feel organic. Especially after Mei gets busted for sneaking out to a party and her three besties Miriam (Ava Morse), Pryia (Maitreyi Ramakrishnan) and Abby (Hyein Park) are confronted by Mei’s mother Ming (Sandra Oh).
It is also surprising that the fictional boyband 4Town had original songs by Billie Eilish and Finneas O’Connell. While I could not remember any of the songs, the duo nails parodying the music of the boyband era while the animators also captured the look.
The animation and character models are all well and good, especially Mei’s expressive Red Panda, but the scene that breaks down the origin of the Red Panda transformation and the Lee family connection is outstanding. Unfortunately, it is the only time I leaned in to catch all the details and subtle details onscreen.
The only issue I had with the movie was how little the extended family seems to be personified. The characters of gramma and the aunties are more like caricatures rather than actual characters. A scene that seems meticulously plotted reveals the aunties and their various medallions, which house the spirits of their pandas after they have been separated from their hosts. I feel like this was intended to be a moment for each of the aunts, but I could not tell you who was who.
It is a nitpick for sure, but after viewing the deleted scenes and commentary, the movie seems to have an issue with introducing characters having them disappear for long periods of time (i.e., see deleted scenes such as “Fei and Christina Hang” and “Roping in Leo” can be viewed as examples of this issue). The scenes feature the “black sheep” aunt and a troublemaking cousin, respectively. The scenes are well done, but they are indicative of the larger problem the movie faces where scenes playout more episodic than serialized. These moments work well independently, but they aren’t always serving the overarching story.
ADDITIONAL COMMENTS: The bonus features are well worth watching if you really enjoyed “Turning Red.” The deleted scenes and commentary document the numerous iterations the movie went through. Some of which suggest an entirely different movie all together.
- Audio Commentary – View the film with audio commentary by director Domee Shi, producer Lindsey Collins, and director of photography Mahyar Abousaeedi.
- Life of a Shot –Domee Shi and members of the crew describe the many-layered process and artistry involved in creating the hilarious Red Peony scene – from observing red pandas in a zoo to creating a storyboard to finalizing the animation and background lighting.
- Build Your Own Boy Band –Step backstage to learn how 4*TOWN came to animated life. From creating each band member’s persona to writing and producing the songs to fine-tuning the details of their stadium performance, the filmmakers reveal how they designed the ultimate boy band.
- Ani-Mei-Tion – Because Mei’s heightened emotionality is central to the story, it was important that her look and movement reflect that energy. Learn how Domee Shi led the animation team to incorporate hints of expressive anime to create Mei’s lovable, dynamic character.
- Deleted Scenes Introduction –Director Domee Shi introduces scenes not included in the final version of Turning Red.
- Intro Meilin – In this alternate opening, Ming and young Mei have their portrait taken in a studio…but Ming has her own specific vision for the photo.
- Taming The Panda –Under her mother’s guidance, Mei learns techniques to control her ability to magically turn into a red panda…to varying degrees of success.
- The Debate –Mei runs for class president against frenemy Tyler, and the speeches get a little out of hand.
- Fei And Christina Hang –Mei (formerly Fei) shares a banana split while having a heart-to-heart with Aunt Christina.
- 4*TOWN Dilemma –Mei scores tickets to her dream concert, but her strict mother won’t let her out of the house. What will she do?
- Roping In Leo – Pleading with Leo for help with getting out of trouble, Mei learns a couple of his closely guarded secrets
- Easter Egg – Robutton Deleted Scene – An alternate ending in which Mei, finding herself sitting next to her 4*TOWN dream-idol Robaire on a flight to California, has some feelings.
The Big Comic Page was provided a screener of the movie for review purposes. “Turning Red” is available on Digital now and the 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, and DVD are available on May 3, 2022.