By Brandon Scott on March 30th, 2022
My reviewing of Turning Red has to, by the sheer presence of its theming, contain caveats. It’s a movie that has a heavy focus on periods and mother-daughter conflicts during adolescence. As an adult male reviewer, it’s not my place to speculate on how true to life this movie is. I’ve simply not grown up as a teenage girl.
Instead, I want to focus this review on the movie’s other qualities. If you’re not watching for its subtext/themes, will you still enjoy it? Did Pixar bring the magic yet again?
Well, short answer: yes. Turning Red doesn’t disappoint. It’s another strong movie, with the usual suffusion of high-bar technical skills. It also proves Pixar’s sheer artistic range.
Most of Turning Red stays shockingly grounded. No car or monster dimensions here. The movie’s fantastical elements are treated with an almost jarringly calm mentality. People freak out, but it’s not that earthshaking. Turning Red also takes place in 2002. Flip phones, boy bands, and digital pets all make appearances. It’s almost surreal seeing this much work going into animating a blast from the past.
But I don’t think Pixar could ever let something in its body of work look unpolished. And, even if you have no interest in the story, the themes, or anything else—you need to see Pixar’s animation yet again shooting for the moon. The comedic facial expressions and seamless switches into exaggerated reality got hearty chuckles out of me. The best by far is the mom (voiced by Sandra Oh), whose stressed and disgruntled reactions are the stuff of top-tier memes.
But the animation is also amazing when it’s not being used for comedy. Scenes of cooking, skylines, and car rides are mesmerizing. The human and animal characters had so much work put into them. Everyone moves differently, has distinct outfits, and you get a sense of personality from the smallest motions and dialog. Seeing Priya (voiced by Maitreyi Ramakrishnan) attempt to cast a hex at girls she thought a threat to her friend was a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment full of character implications.
But this wouldn’t work as well if the characters weren’t also masterfully written. Again, can’t speak to the realities of being a teenage girl, but quality writing is quality writing. Meilin’s (voiced by Rosalie Chiang) slow journey of learning to be her own person is delightful, and her relationship with both her parents strongly depicted. Her deep connection to her mother is the main plot and full of emotionally packed moments. The few minutes she gets with her dad are also brilliant. Their quiet talk about human nature was the moment I knew I was going to recommend this film wholeheartedly. Even in a dramedy full of awkward shenanigans and “cringe” humor, Pixar always knows how to get across the beauty and pain of being a person, no matter the age.
Turning Red is skillful by every measure I can perceive. It goes through many tonal changes, sometimes very close to each other in timing, and yet feels like one story. One moment in growing up, regardless of the specifics. I think anyone and everyone will get something from this story. It doesn’t shy away from the messiness of life—doesn’t pull punches. Turning Red is an honest film, and for that and many other reasons, a great one.
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