Combustible Celluloid
With: Rosalie Chiang, Sandra Oh, Ava Morse, Maitreyi Ramakrishnan, Hyein Park, Orion Lee, Wai Ching Ho, James Hong (voices)
Written by: Domee Shi & Julia Cho
Directed by: Domee Shi
MPAA Rating: PG for thematic material, suggestive content and language
Running Time: 100
Date: 03/11/2022

Turning Red (2022)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Panda Flair

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Domee Shi, the Academy Award-winning maker of the short film Bao, makes her feature debut with Turning Red, becoming the first woman to direct a Pixar feature, solo. (Brenda Chapman was the first female director at Pixar, but her film Brave was co-directed by a man.) It's a zippy film, faster and funnier than many Pixar offerings. It's also unabashedly girl-centric, even talking about puberty in a wonderfully honest, messy way.

It's 2002, and thirteen-year-old Mei (voiced by Rosalie Chiang) is a happy Chinese-Canadian, an accomplished student with three girl "besties." She loves her mother, Ming (voiced by Sandra Oh), but also feels pushed and pressured by her. She wants nothing more than to go to a concert by the boy band 4-Town, but one morning she wakes up, and she has turned into a giant red panda. She can change back into a human again, but strong emotions make the panda appear at all the wrong moments.

A ritual to banish the panda can be performed in a month's time, when the moon is right, so meanwhile, Mei and her pals try to raise money for the concert tickets. (It's not explained how the tickets are not sold out and are still available on the day of the show.) The movie's quick pace makes things feel a tad rushed, and the three "besties" are not fleshed out; they are all "types" based on one personality trait. But it's a ground-breaker in terms of energy and representation, and a joyous entertainment as well. It debuts March 11, 2022 on Disney+.

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