South Taranaki Star
Pixar’s dramedy packs an emotional punch
looked at where nightmares came from. Soul investigated how personalities are formed. laid bare the complex mix of emotions experienced by a tween.
Now, Pixar’s 25th animated adventure tackles something even more provocative, groundbreaking and audacious, a 13-year-old girl’s coming of age, adolescent fears, hopes, dreams and life and body-changing effects of menstruation.
Yes, that title is most certainly deliberate and this is the ‘‘period dramedy’’ for the whole family that maybe we never expected Disney to be the backers of. Which makes it all the more disappointing that they decided earlier this year, that like Mulan, Soul and Luca (there’s a pattern amongst those titles that I’ll leave you, dear reader, to establish), they’d pull this from its planned cinema release and send it direct to Disney + (where it debuts on the evening of Friday, March 11).
Kiwi movie theatre operators should be particularly aggrieved at missing out on revenue from one of the finest Pixar movies since 2015’s
Inside Out, a thoughtprovoking, smart and massively entertaining adventure that’s also a love letter to Toronto and ‘90s and noughties boy bands, with a hugely empowering and important message that ‘‘people have all kinds of sides to them – and some sides are messy’’.
That’s certainly the case when it comes to 13-year-old Chinese-Canadian Meilin ‘‘Mei’’ Lee (Rosalie Chiang). Now considered an adult – at least in the eyes of the Toronto Transit Commission – the previously slavishly parentally obedient eighth grader has recently started trying doing ‘‘her own thing’’.
‘‘I will say what I want, do what I want – and I will not hesitate to do a spontaneous cartwheel – if I feel so moved,’’ she informs us. Teachers describe her as ‘‘a very enterprising, mildly annoying young lady’’, while peer assessments range from ‘‘major weirdo’’ to ‘‘overachieving dorknark’’. Not that those bother Mei.
‘‘I embrace and accept all labels… it’s going to be my year,’’ she enthuses.
That year is 2002 and along with her besties – Miriam (Ava Morse), Priya (Maitreyi Ramakrishnan) and Abby (Hyein Park) – she is desperately looking forward to their favourite singing and dancing quintet 4*Town performing at the city’s Skydome.
Two things stand in their way though – finances and Mei’s overprotective mother Ming (Sandra Oh). She has always fretted and fussed over her sole child, but seriously oversteps when she not only confronts ‘‘the sketchy clerk at the Daisy Mart’’ after discovering Mei has a crush on him, but also shows him her lovelorn sketches.
Feeling publicly humiliated, Mei has a fitful night’s sleep and upon looking in a mirror the following morning discovers herself transformed.
Sensing her daughter’s panic as she unsuccessfully tries to enter her room, Ming asks ‘‘did the red peony bloom?’’ However, her cries that she’s now ‘‘a big red furry monster’’ are a little more literal than could traditionally be expected.
Essentially an animated female version of Teen Wolf (the 1986 Michael J. Fox knockabout comedy, not the darker, more recent TV series) for a modern audience, debutant feature filmmaker Domee Shi (who won an Oscar for her delightful 2018 animated short Bao) and her co-writer Julia Cho ( Big Love, Fringe) have done a magnificent job of blending Chinese mythology and beliefs with the confusing time that is adolescence (for both teens and their parents).
The Lees’ role as guardians of one of the city’s oldest temples (‘‘we celebrate ancestors, not gods, and not just the dudes either,’’ as Mei hilariously puts it) and Ming’s family’s ‘‘blessing’’ is a terrific allegory for puberty, but it’s integrated in such a subtle, sometimes subversive way that it can be enjoyed on many levels, depending on the viewer’s age.
There are plenty of memorable moments, witty one-liners, physical comedy and scenes that will tug at the heartstrings, as Mei bickers with her mother, battles to control her emotions and attempts to cash-in on newfound popularity.
As the panda-monium reaches a crescendo, the story does slightly stumble by falling back on something more expected of Marvel, but that’s more than redeemed by the sweetly satisfying denouement.
Four years in the making, Turning Red is a potent reminder of the power of animation and Pixar’s undisputed knack for storytelling that packs an emotional punch.
Turning Red began streaming on Disney+ on the evening of Friday, March 11.