Movie #26 2022: Turning Red (2022)

Time for a little break from this year’s Oscar nominations because… well, because Nightmare Alley has put me off. I’m not even kidding; everything about it was such an anti-climax that I’m worried that other nominated movies are going to let me down. But Turning Red? Well, it’s receiving some mighty high praise, so there’s little risk of a let down here.

The newest entry into the Pixar canon, Turning Red stars newcomer Rosalie Chang and the majestic Sandra Oh in the leading roles. Set on the streets of Toronto(!), it follows a Chinese-Canadian teenager who is just hitting her stride. Unbeknownst to young Mei though, her family hold a worrying secret: the women in her family have the ability to transform into giant red pandas when they get too emotional. Her mother (Oh) explains that this is seen as a blessing passed down from her ancestors, as it helps them to protect their young. But Mei? Mei is less than impressed with her newly-discovered metamorphosis… at first, anyway.

This is it. This is the Pixar movie for nostalgic millennials. Not only is it set in 2002, but it heavily features several musical blasts from the past and some nods to early-2000s technology (crappy flip phones, Tamagotchis) that will get your memories going.

At first, I didn’t think the animation was all that interesting or original, but then came the part with the Dad making food and I completely changed my mind. There’s so much aesthetically going on here, from the pearly pastel landscapes to the vibrant panda hairs, it’s just that you have to look a little deeper in order to appreciate it to its fullest. One particular stand-out aspect is the use of different animation types: there’s a specific segment that utilises some gorgeous looking 2D Chinese drawings, which acts as a nice little breather from the hyper-colourised, comedy action visuals that dominate the majority of the film.

Speaking of needing to look a little deeper, Turning Red is so unrelentingly steeped in Canadian – and, indeed, Asian-Canadian – culture (multiculturalism, Daisy Mart, The CN Tower, ice hockey, Timbits, Lester B. Pearson, The Rogers Centre) and it’s so exciting to see, especially in a movie so high profile as this (Pixar). Though not releasing it in cinemas is a huge injustice, it’s actually lovely to see Toronto featured in such a big, unapologetic way. The blue jay shoutout towards the end brought the biggest smile to my face, and only made me even more excited to return to Toronto this summer. 

I have to admit that the plot on the whole is rather predictable in lieu of one or two twists. In spite of that, it is executed in such a heart-warming, fun way that it doesn’t matter all that much. Not only does it look good, but the soundtrack completely enhances everything that’s going on – Billie Eilish and her brother do an excellent job, and the popular music choices (Bootylicious!) are, again, a millennial’s dream.

Turning Red isn’t particularly the most memorable film in Pixar’s filmography, nor is it my favourite. It is, however, well paced, entertaining and a feast for the eyes for someone who loves everything Canada like me. Plus, having Sandra Oh amongst your voice cast is always a positive.

Turning Red is (exclusively) streaming on Disney+ in the UK.

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