We may not be in 2002 anymore but the new ‘Spider-Man’ movie just dominated the box-office and Jennifer Lopez and Ben Affleck have just gotten engaged again so we’re close enough. In those twenty years, however, pop culture hasn’t really changed all that much, it has only adapted to the ever-changing times. What’s interesting though, is that in those twenty years, animated movies have developed quite the variety in terms of storytelling and what an animated movie could talk about. While the legendary Disney renaissance era gained the medium a lot of respect from adult viewers, it is undeniably Pixar that started ushering in an era where animated movies are just as much for adults as they are for children. As they grew increasingly diverse in representation, Pixar continuously broke ground on what animation was allowed to talk about by focusing on themes like mental health, environmental issues, existentialism, identity and generational trauma. While Disney Animation hit quite an amazing peak in the early 2010s, the quality started to drop concerningly until last year’s ‘Encanto‘ was released. Pixar on the other hand has actually had a mostly consistent line of movies, even with the sequels. What’s both nice and slightly mortifying about Pixar’s latest release ‘Turning Red’, is that it takes place in the now considered nostalgic year of 2002 which is ironic because in 2002 this movie would’ve never been made. It is at moments like this where an alarming amount of people freak out over the fact that a Pixar movie is talking about the menstrual cycle that you realize how embarrassingly behind we are.
minor spoilers for Pixar’s ‘Turning Red’ are featured in this review.
Pixar’s trademark formula has usually consisted of stunningly animated backdrops, expressive animation, emotionally-resonant stories and life lessons to guide children and adults alike. Throughout the years, their formula has rarely ever changed, it was instead the approach and voices behind the stories that developed. The recent line of Pixar movies has ushered in a new phase for the studio. An experimental phase where the movies are all stylistically different and are driven by the characters rather than the story. In fact, the scope of these movies tends to feel smaller than that of Pixar’s classics. ‘Onward‘ was a wholesome road-trip quest in a hybrid land of fantastical modernity, ‘Soul‘ was a life-affirming journey through a photo-realistic New York City and ‘Luca‘ revolved around a coming-of-age summer spent in an Italian riviera. Truthfully these three movies have been some of my favourite animated movies from the studio. It’s refreshing to see a new approach being utilized especially when the result is just as satisfying and emotional as that of an older Pixar movie. ‘Turning Red’ continues in those movies’ footsteps as it revolves around a Chinese-American thirteen-year-old girl whose entire life now revolves around going to a boyband concert with her best friends. What’s stopping her? Generational trauma, lack of identity and well… turning into a giant red panda whenever she feels any strong emotion.
The movie opens up with a warning from Meilin Lee herself who warns that if you’re not careful, you will honour your family so much, that you might stop honouring yourself. Wowza, who can’t relate to that? Well, apparently white critics but that’s a conversation for another day. I may be seven years older than Meilin but I can still relate to that struggle. Moving out is hard and expensive y’all! There is a time when once you’ve finally started figuring yourself out, you want to start a life of your own and while you love your parents, you obviously need your own space. This movie absolutely nailed the complexity of that situation. From feeling ashamed of exploring your sexuality to even your music taste being disapproved by your parents, this movie did it all and what’s important is that they never vilified Meilin’s mother, Ming Lee. They explored the complexities of a parent who is unknowingly keeping their child back due to their own unresolved trauma so delicately yet so effectively at the same time. The climactic third act was described as a left turn by some people but I think the movie couldn’t have played out any other way. There is so much unspoken anger and suppressed frustration between Meilin and Ming that it only made sense to have it all go down in a Pixar Red Panda Kaiju showdown.
Without a doubt, director Domee Shi has delivered a relatable, nostalgic movie that manages to resonate with a whole lot of people all at once. The story works on so many levels. It works as a commentary on the generational trauma between families, especially those of colour. It also moves like a coming-of-age movie and what stepping into womanhood feels like for these four young teens. On that note, it also utilizes all of these themes and works them through the lens of a Chinese-American fable with culture being a crucial theme. Meilin is a girl who embraces and loves her culture, she doesn’t associate her culture purely with her family, she genuinely cares about it and embraces it as part of her own life. It is truly so wonderful and endearing that so many Chinese-American children will see this movie and see someone like them embrace their culture with such enthusiasm. The attention to detail for accuracies in Chinese culture and implementing them into the plot was such a job well done. It’s been such a joy seeing so many people in the Asian community relate to Meilin and share their own stories. At the end of the day, this is what representation is all about. Even though the emotional climax made me teary-eyed, it didn’t resonate with me on that big a level. That being said, I know that for some people, it holds a much deeper and richer connection and that makes me really happy.
The nostalgia in ‘Turning Red’ works on two levels, one being the fact that it is quite literally a period piece (it’s a GREAT joke!), and the other is that it is told through the eyes of a thirteen-year-old. While the 2000s nostalgia was effective and fun, the real nostalgic elements for me came from the coming-of-age elements. This movie did an excellent job exploring the life of a thirteen-year-old. It revolved around Meilin’s circle in a way that complimented and respected her. In the end, the movie valued both her friends and family equally which is not always the case for a movie like this. I loved spending time with Meilin and her friends, it took me back to my time as a teenager. Goofing off with friends in the school library, solving ‘Gravity Falls’ riddles in the art classroom during a free period, having chaotic crushes that feel ridiculous when you look back on them. Not to mention putting the entire weight of your own world on an upcoming concert! That is something I am currently doing as I’m going to see my favourite band in January and I am indeed treating it like a life-changing event. The movie nails those nostalgic elements far more effectively than any 2000s pop-culture reference. That being said, 4*TOWN is my new favourite boyband, I am a certified 4*TOWNIE! Obsessed is an understatement, those three singles have taken over my life for the past two months, Billie Eilish and FINNEAS can genuinely do no wrong.
Overall, I hope Pixar continues making movies like ‘Turning Red’ and the ones before it because so far, every single one has been amazing. It goes without saying how insane the animation looks, the cooking scene alone is just magical. The music was fantastic, the voice-acting was excellent, Sandra Oh especially did a phenomenal job with Ming Lee and once again praise has to be given to Domee Shi whose voice undeniably powers this movie. Sadly, movies like ‘Soul’, ‘Encanto’ and ‘Turning Red’ have had their success mostly on Disney+ which quite honestly pisses me off. Those movies deserved to be in theatres and I genuinely hope that neither Pixar nor Disney don’t stop making movies like these because these stories demand to be seen in theatres. I highly suggest watching this, one of the year’s best movies so far and one of Pixar’s funniest as well.
Pixar’s ‘Turning Red’ is available to stream on Disney Plus now.
SURPRISE RANKING OF 4*TOWN’S SINGLES:
1. U Know What’s Up
2. Nobody Like U
3. 1 True Love