Pixar’s latest film is the sort of film that I could have used when I was 13.
Let’s be honest turning 13 is a painful time in anybody’s life – a time when you struggle to cope with your emotions and the changes happening in your life – but I haven’t seen it quite so sensitively and articulately put on film as in Pixar’s latest film – despite the final scenes losing that sense of uniting the audience with the characters that works well early on in the film.
Mei Lee is an ordinary 13 year old girl, who loves boybands and has a strong relationship with her mother – until one day her hormones make a major impact on her emotions which take a life of their own. But what sets her particularly apart is the fact that in moments of extreme emotion she transforms into a red panda – which is cute but rather inconvenient if you are just trying to go through life like everybody else.
Written by an all-female team (Sarah Streicher, Julia Cho and Domee Shi – who also directs), in the same way that Inside Out taught us to really all be more in tune with our emotions, Turning Red encourages kids to embrace every part of themselves – even the parts which they may not like about themselves. It is a coming of age story that talks about topics that aren’t normally covered in animated films (the bit in which Mei Lee’s mother follows her to school with armfuls of sanitary pads is not only amusing but equally cringy) in not a patronising way but with constructiveness. Yes it may leave parents having to answer some awkward questions but that is the whole point of this film: to open up dialogue between parents and their children when it comes to talking about growing up.
But it also has a comforting message at the heart of it: you are not alone – and Mei has her friends who help her along the way, each with their own distinct personality that really adds to the dynamic and joy that this film has – particularly when they all go a little bit loopy over the boyband 4 * Town and will do anything possible to go their concert. This is perhaps the only slightly flimsy part of the story which could have used a bit of work- although there is a slight struggle, this could have been built up further and used Mei Lee’s conflicting emotions further to make it feel a touch more believable.
However, this being said Turning Red is sensitively done and as always with a Pixar film – there has been a lot of attention paid to detail. In particular, I loved the way in which Mei’s dad is cooking dinner and you see the ingredients close up – so unbelievably realistic that you could almost reach through the screen and touch them. While elsewhere, I loved the cheeky easter egg references to other Pixar films that you can spot along the way and other aspects of inclusion such as having two students at school who have diabetes – showing again the keenness of animated films to be more inclusive.
While for me, Turning Red perhaps didn’t have the same impact on me as Inside Out did but I can appreciate how progressive it is in terms of trying to open up dialogue about ‘awkward issues’ with regards to growing up and help to break some of the barriers down. It was the film I could have used in seeing when I was growing up.
By Emma Clarendon
Turning Red is available to watch on Disney + now.