Grade:  B+
Animation
Rated PG

Turning Red is film that can seem uncharacteristically strident for Disney-Pixar. You’ve already heard the complaints: it deals with a young girl’s first menstruation, it “glorifies” juvenile disobedience, and the main character can be a bit much to take.

The first period criticism is way overblown, because it’s really just a mother’s assumption that briefly pops up. When Meilin “Mei” Lee is embarrassed, she does what many kids do:  she turns red. But her red is a giant version of the red panda.  It confuses her. It frightens her. She tries to hide it, especially from her over-protective and aggressive mom. That’s when Ming assumes her daughter is having her first period, but quickly learns it’s an animal transformation instead. 

So the “period” thing is nothing more than a brief blip on the radar screen. Parents worried about young children “getting an education” prematurely can relax. It’s subtle enough that the very young ones won’t even pick up on what’s happening, and those old enough to perceive what Meilin’s mother is talking about are old enough to ask their parents about it. Or maybe the parents would prefer to do things the old-fashioned American way and refrain from talking about something until it actually happens? You know, like Stephen King’s Carrie in the shower, who loses her mind thinking she’s dying?

I personally think any film that give families the chance to talk about important life changes and events is a good thing, and that includes the minutiae. In Turning Red, for example, Meilin has a crush on a boy, and that might be a conversation-starter for parents to talk to their children about crushes.

As for glorifying juvenile disobedience, I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that Meilin isn’t the first adolescent to sneak out of the house. I mean, even Disney’s Pollyanna did that, and her name is always equated with a goody-goody attitude.

Yes, Meilin can be “exuberant,” but you quickly acclimate and appreciate her as a character. There’s a manic tone throughout much of the film, but it’s absolutely reflective of the OH MY GOD drama that is part of the exaggerated way junior-high age children tend to speak, especially as they engage with friends. For anyone who’s spent time with that age group, Turning Red rings as true as Stand by Me did for a much earlier generation.

So “haters,” I think you got this one wrong. Rotten Tomatometer critics agree. They gave Turning Red a 94 percent “fresh” rating, while 72 percent of the RT readership gave it high marks.

Domee Shi, the first woman to be sole director on a Pixar film, said that Turning Red was inspired by her experiences growing up in Canada, and she creates the kind of richly detailed animated world that Pixar fans have come to expect. Even if you don’t happen to know Toronto or Chinese immigrant culture, the production design is brilliant enough to sell you on its believability. Especially spot-on is Pixar’s depiction of the phenomenon of boy bands and the attendant promotion, fan frenzy, and concert mania that accompanies them, whether they’re K-Pop, British, Canadian, or American. But the entire world of junior-high age adolescents is incredibly well rendered—even if the mouths of some of the characters tend to remind you a bit of the Aardman Wallace-and-Gromit faces.

Turning Red also takes some surprising turns, for a film that offers a classic Titanic-iceberg convergence. It lurches toward the positive or negative when you least expect it, as Meilin and her friends secretly raise money to secretly attend the 4*Town concert, while Meilin’s mother and other relatives plan for a ceremony that will enable the girl to control what turns out to be a family curse of sorts—a hereditary condition.

Turning Red stars voice talents Rosalie Chiang (Meilin Lee), Sandra Oh (Min Lee), Ava Morse (Miriam, one of Mailin’s best friends), Maitreyi Ramakrishnan (Priya, another “bestie”), and Hyein Park (Abby, the third best friend). And Shi, who had worked in the animation department on Incredibles 2 and Inside Out and also won an Oscar for Best Animated Short with Bao (2018), easily makes the transition to full-length feature with this entertaining entry. I think we’ll be hearing more from her.

Entire family:  Yes
Run time:  100 min., Color
Aspect ratio:  1.85:1
Featured audio:  Dolby Atmos DTS-HDMA 7.1
Studio/Distributor:  Disney-Pixar
Bonus features:  B
Includes: Nothing extra, though a Blu-ray/DVD/Digital Code edition is also available, and a 4K/Blu-ray edition
Trailer
Amazon link
Rated PG for thematic material, suggestive content and language

Language:  1/10—so mild I can’t recall anything specific

Sex:  1/10—School crushes, accusations of being “degenerate,” an admission of liking boys and “gyrating,” “Bootyllicious” playing in the background, and brief twerking

Violence:  2/10—Some small-scale Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man destruction, one brief panda-on-human attack, a near auto accident, a fall, and some bullying

Adult situations:  1/10—A single mention of drugs that I caught

Takeaway:  Anything Disney does these days seems to draw fire. Shi deserved a better fate for such an accomplished first full-length feature.