Growing and maturing get a twist in the animated feature Turning Red.
Meilin (the voice of Rosalie Chiang) is a very bright and dutiful 13-year-old. She diligently follows her overprotective – and, at times, overbearing – mother’s lead and always does the right thing by her. But one night the totally unexpected happens. Meilin turns into a large red panda and continues doing so every time she is overexcited. It turns out that that is not so unusual on her mother’s side of the family. Indeed, her mother, her grandmother and generations before did the same … and they each went through a ritual to suppress that side of their character. So, led by her grandmother, it is determined that Meilin will do the same.
Only Meilin is discovering that she doesn’t want to do what her mother asks all the time. After all, she is now a teenager and would like to enjoy adolescent experiences with her three girlfriends. In particular, she wants to attend a concert by a boy band the same night as her ritual is due to take place. And it isn’t as if she hasn’t worked hard to raise the money to be there.
A delightful fantasy, Turning Red combines the mystical and the magical with the rites of passage that children go through. Written (with Julio Cho) and directed by Domee Shi (who won an Oscar for Best Animated Short in 2019), this colourful and creative film showcases the two sides to Meilin’s character … and there’s a lot to like about her. And before you think the film is preaching subversion, that isn’t the case. Rather, it’s about discovering who you are and charting your own path. It gravitates around striking a balance between following a lead and doing what you think is right.
Importantly, the film is heavily steeped in girl power, and all the women in Meilin’s family are strong and principled women. Meilin’s father also steps in occasionally to add his observations and pearls of wisdom. I thought that was a nice touch. I found Turning Red entertaining and engaging throughout.
Turning Red is available now on Disney+
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Alex First is a Melbourne based journalist and communications specialist. He contributes to The Blurb on film and theatre.