T.O. Time Capsule in Pixar Form: Our Review of ‘Turning Red’

Posted in Disney +, Movies, What's Streaming? by - March 10, 2022
T.O. Time Capsule in Pixar Form: Our Review of ‘Turning Red’

Turning Red is the latest film meant to be released theatrically from animation giants Pixar. It debuts this week direct to Disney +. This was a controversial decision that Disney made at the height of the Omicron variant earlier this year. Directed by Domee Shi, the Oscar award-winning director of the amazing Pixar short Bao, Turning Red is a love letter to the city she grew up in. She grew up in a Toronto circa 2002 when Tamagotchi still existed. Cell phones were still very much in the early phases and the Skydome was STILL the Skydome.

Meilin Lee (Rosalie Chiang) is a precocious and confident 13-year old that has a strong circle of friends, Miriam (Ava Morse), Priya (Maitreyi Ramakrishnan), and Abby (Hyein Park). She has an extremely overprotective mother, Ming (Sandra Oh), and an overwhelming affection for her favorite boy bad, 4Town. One day, Meilin’s mother causes an embarrassing incident. The next day, she wakes up to discover she transformed into a Giant Red Panda. And even more shocking, her mother may know why.

Without getting into any more specific detail, at the risk of spoiling anything, Turning Red deals with a lot of issues that come in family dynamics. Those dynamics include respecting and honoring your parents to growing up and trying to establish your own identity. Director Shi mixes in cultural differences as well, drawing from her own experiences to fully flesh out the story. In many ways though, this is a story of mothers and daughters. And with that relationship come the many ways that they can be both rewarding and challenging.

The film is packed with Easter eggs for those of us in Toronto. It shows the aforementioned Skydome (a personal fave) and the old TTC streetcars that run along Spadina. From there, the film takes us into Chinatown. It is a treat for the eyes of Torontonians and is a beautiful time capsule that has been lovingly reconstructed on screen. It’s also unabashedly Canadian in a way that we have likely not seen from a major US film production. It’s been too long since Edgar Wright’s Scott Pilgrim vs The World. The animation is top-notch, hardly a surprise considering it’s Pixar. And Shi’s direction keeps the film briskly paced with nary a slow spot in sight. On top of the Toronto aspects of the film, Shi also pays homage to classic Kaiju films. She even gives a little nod towards Katsuhiro Otomo’s classic anime Akira.

The casting is also pitch-perfect here, especially ‘national treasure’ Sandra Oh (Domee Shi’s own words). She is fantastic as the mother who has a lot more riding on what’s happening than what first appears. The young cast leading the story is also excellent here and they don’t overplay their roles. They hit the right stride as characters overly confident for their ages mixed with not actually knowing how their actions affect anything in the long run.

Even veteran character actors like James Hing and Wai Ching Ho show up to lend their voices to the cause. We should also note that when you have a boy band in a film you want to make sure that the songs at least work. And this time around Pixar uses Billie Eilish and her brother Finneas (who also provides the voice of one of the band members) to produce all the new music. The songs work fantastically well in context.

It’s almost criminal that we don’t get to see Turning Red on a cinema screen, as this film is screaming for the biggest screen possible to watch it on. Director Domee Shi proves that the phenomenal Bao was no fluke and delivers one of the most satisfying Pixar adventures since Onward. And after seeing the incredible Encanto theatrically last year, that’s all I wanted for Turning Red too. Because this film is just as magical as that house is.

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"Kirk Haviland is an entertainment industry veteran of over 20 years- starting very young in the exhibition/retail sector before moving into criticism, writing with many websites through the years and ultimately into festival work dealing in programming/presenting and acquisitions. He works tirelessly in the world of Canadian Independent Genre Film - but is also a keen viewer of cinema from all corners of the globe (with a big soft spot for Asian cinema!)
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