Turning Red (2022)

Turning Red
Director: Domee Shi
Writer: Domee Shi, Julia Cho, Sarah Streicher
Cast: Rosalie Chiang, Sandra Oh, Ava Morse, Hyein Park, Maitreyi Ramakrishnan, Orion Lee, Wai Ching Ho, Tristan Allerick Chen, Lori Tan Chinn, Mia Tagano, Sherry Cola, Lillian Lim, James Hong, Jordan Fisher
Seen on: 10.7.2022

Meilin (Rosalie Chiang) is a good girl, dividing her time between school – where she geeks out with her friends Miriam (Ava Morse), Abby (Hyein Park) and Priya (Maitreyi Ramakrishnan) over the boyband 4*Town – and the temple her mother (Sandra Oh) and father (Orion Lee) run. Things are good, even though her mother finds some rather embarassing doodles of a cute boy and embarasses Mei even further. But then Mei wakes up and has turned into a giant red panda. Everything is about to be different.

Turning Red is an adorable, fun, wonderful romp that fills a gap in kids’ movies in more than one way. I adored it.

The film poster showing Meilin as the Red Panda, surrounded by her friends Miriam, Priya and Abby.

After Shi’s wonderful Bao, I had high hopes for Turning Red – and I’m glad to say that I really wasn’t disappointed. This is a special film, and not because the time this is set in is also about the time I was a teen. I, too, had a Tamagotchi. I, too, grew up in the golden age of boybands (although my boyband fandom lasted only about a month). But this is only incidental to my liking of the film, though not incidental to the film and its story.

This 90s setting grounds the film, as much as its firm setting in the Chinese-Canadian community. It’s the specificity of both of those things that allows the film to soar and approach something that transcends the setting: what does it mean to grow up as a girl, to discover your sexual desires, to stand up against your family, to find your way into the world? These are questions we have seen answered often for boys, but girls have gotten the short end of the stick so far in this regard. I, for one, cannot recall an animated film so far that has talked about menstruation and pads (the Red Panda is in part a symbol of Mei’s period), nor about what it is to be Chinese-Canadian.

Meilin walking down the street.

Apart from that representation, Turning Red is still wonderful, though. Even if we had seen like a million animated films about periods and Chinese-Canadians, Turning Red would be an utterly charming example of this imaginary plenty. It is fun, it nails that boyband sound, but above all, Mei and her friends are a perfect friend group and Mei’s conflict(s) with her mother is beautifully and touchingly captured.

I am really sorry that I missed Turning Red in the cinema, but more importantly, I’m really glad I saw it – and I can’t wait to shove it all the young people, particularly girls, in my life who will hopefully not only enjoy watching it, but see a part of themselves in it.

Meilin showing herself as the Red Panda to her friends for the first time.

Summarizing: fantastic cinema.

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