I never expected Turning Red to be this good. When I started the film, I was expecting a bit better than Onward, and a bit below Luca and Toy Story 3. But wow. It was better than Onward, Toy Story 3, and even arguably Luca. What a film. That’s not to say the film doesn’t have its faults (it does), but it’s a Pixar film for the ages, and I’ll absolutely rewatch it.
Turning Red is directed by Domee Shi, and stars Rosalie Chiang, Sandra Oh, Orion Lee, Wai Ching Ho, Ava Morse, Maitreyi Ramakrishnan, Hyein Park, and James Hong. It’s a wonderful, furry, loving piece of art that celebrates Asian (specifically Cantonese) representation. While it falls short a bit at times, is still fun and enjoyable. So here we go, into my review of Pixar’s Turning Red.
The Asian representation in this film cannot be understated, as it’s been for so long. I love this exploration, and truly hope that we see another Pixar entry with the cast soon again. A sequel, maybe a Disney+ series? Whatever it is, I’m in. Rosalie Chiang gets her first major role with her portrayal of Mei, and Maitreyi Ramakrishnan comes off a thrilling performance as Devi Vishwakumar.
Veterans Sandra Oh and James Hong deliver capturing performances yet again. Ming Lee and her father are a perfect duo, and the emotion in this film is raw and rapturing. It’s an amazing film that has seemingly searched far and wide to find the perfect cast. Did they? Pretty much, yeah.
First off, if you know me, then you know that I don’t pull punches. I’m going to be blunt. The third act is, for the most part, a mess. Without getting into spoiler territory, it basically ends in a corny way that Pixar’s phased out lately from their films. Apparently, not enough, as it’s on broad display here. That’s what prevents this film from getting an A grade for me.
The third act goes into the emotional mother-daughter bond, and while that’s not bad in itself, the film falls apart at the point where we go rampaging through Toronto. Boy, do I love 2002 Toronto in this film (but that’s for another time). Other than that, the film remains stable through Acts 1 and 2, and provides a warm, comfy story to relax families. It’s a soothing tale that focuses on a teenager’s relationship with her family and friends. It’s not great, it’s not bad, it’s just good enough for a nice bedtime watch.
Domee Shi has created a masterful work of art in her second entry to the Pixar universe. The craft in the film, the shot choices, it’s all brilliant. Is it perfect? No, it hardly is. But Shi brings her passion and skill to the film, and creates an entirely different animation style than seen before in Pixar films. There needs to be a new script, but if that happened, I would be entirely for Shi directing another project with Pixar. Perhaps an Inside Out sequel? That would work.
I don’t think I’ve seen this animation style in Pixar before. Think Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse, but with a slightly warmer color palette. Think a bit rounder and with less comical features. That should get you to Turning Red‘s animation style. I like it, actually. I think I would’ve liked it a lot more in Act 3 (the one with the most panda) if there hadn’t been the story break, but it was still beautiful to see the panda come to life. It was the most realistic animation I’ve seen from Pixar to date, and I’d love to see them do it again.
The soundtrack was composed by Ludwig Goransson, who previously scored Black Panther, Creed, and The Mandalorian. I hate to say it, but I wasn’t a big fan of the score. It might’ve been the first time I’ve said that about Goransson, and it felt taken, and shaped into something that wasn’t Goransson’s. He has a very distinct style, and he’s one of the best in that category. When he ventures outside that sphere, though, it’s not good. That’s why I’m glad that he’ll be scoring Black Panther: Wakanda Forever and Oppenheimer, and not more Pixar films.
Shi’s first project for Pixar, Bao, received Academy recognition as Best Animated Short. This likely won’t win Best Animated Feature, as it’s entering competition with Lightyear and Strange World (my personal favorite to win). However, I’m being the critic here, so if this film enters contention at fan awards, it’s strong. There are too many issues with it to enter critics contention, but I personally believe that fans will love it.
Turning Red isn’t the perfect Pixar film, and may not even be in the Top 10. However, it reminds us of family and compassion, two values that we need now, more than ever. Sit down with your family, to some warm buttered popcorn and blankets, and just enjoy the precious time you have with them, because as the film shows, nothing lasts forever. Pixar’s Turning Red premieres exclusively on Disney+ March 11.
Overall Grade: B