“Turning Red” takes on puberty, which in itself is pretty bold. Especially coming from Pixar, a studio that has taken complaints as of late that they’ve lost a lot of their creative mojo. It’s another movie that examines the relationship between mother and child from filmmaker Domee Shi, whose debut “Bao” was one of the more memorable short films i’ve ever seen. “Red” tries to blend serious with disney fantasy but winds up confused.
It’s a coming of age story centering around Meilin (Rosalie Chiang), a 13 year old Chinese girl who tries to spread her time between being a free-spirit and adhering to the large expectations of her mother (Sandra Oh). But things are changing for her; she’s more into boys, concerts, and concerts concerning boys. Plus she’s hormonal, which in a twist leads to her waking up one morning as a giant red panda.
We soon learn that has something to do with an ancestor who wished to harness her emotions into beast form. Good for her, but not for the descendants of women in the family who came after. Meilin now has to use guided meditation to stay calm, or she’ll keep turning, and wait a month for her family, including her intrusive Grandma, to perform a ritual that will rid her of this ailment for good.
At its heart is a strained mother-daughter relationship: one sadly based on the old Chinese cliche of the Tiger mom who will tolerate nothing more from her daughter than to live by family custom. It’s a caricature played to overbearing effect here: the mother follows her daughter around, embarrasses and demeans her in front of her friends, and even insanely chastises a young boy whose only crime is being drawn in Meilin’s notebook.
Meilin is also sadly a character who’s not much better- her and her friends are basically obnoxious types who seem to be auditioning for an MTV reality show but are basically 5 or 6 years too early. Yeah, kids can put on a guise of over-confidence, I get that, but that’s not what an audience really connects with. It’s just posturing, not portraying a real person.
But that’s nothing compared with trying to connect with this story. For a film meant to open up a dialogue between mothers and daughters, it doesn’t really give you much place to start. Put aside the “turning into a furry monster thing”, the ideas of “getting rid of it” and using guided meditation to ease it confused the hell out of me. And how exactly is her life supposed to go if she doesn’t “get rid of it.”
I also have to say that the main plot-kids paying Meilin to turn into a monster so that she and her friends can earn money to go see a boy band-might be the most niche thing Pixar has ever come up with and it brings up the idea of selling one’s self for money that the film never addresses. And what a bizarre ending featuring everything from mother-daughter angst, Godzilla, twerking, and auto-tune singing.
And as we get to the final mother daughter climax we get scenes that feel more cliche of the moment than actually genuine and the quick narration wrap-up feels more like avoiding the story’s more complex questions.
Like most Pixar, the animation is still fine- a scene where Meilin’s dad makes dumplings looks delicious and the teens are all purposefully gawky- but oddly this movie did not make me laugh, it didn’t move me, and it left me thinking about an interesting topic in all the wrong ways. It’s a cool try, but the metaphor just doesn’t fly.
Rating: 4 out of 10