Turning Red’s portrayal of ancestor worship is an important part of Chinese culture
  • Director: Domee Shi
  • Cast: Rosalie Chiang, Sandra Oh, Maitreyi Ramakrishna, Ava Morse, Hyein Park, Orion Lee
  • Genre: Fantasy animation
  • Language/Country: English/USA
  • Duration: 1 hr 40 minutes
  • Release date: March 11, 2022

A new Disney-Pixar movie is in town. ‘Turning Red’ follows a schoolgirl named Mei who is a hardworking and energetic straight A student. She is also Chinese-Canadian and has a close relationship with her mom Ming (Sandra Oh). Mei is an ordinary kid. Like many girls her age, she simps for a popular boy band, has a small crush on the pretty drugstore clerk, and has three best friends: Miriam (Ava Morse), Priya (Maitreyi Ramakrishnan) and Abby (Hyein Park). 

Mei’s life is going more than smoothly….. until one day when Mei wakes up to be a giant red panda. Mei is beyond shocked! It is then explained to her by her mom that a generational spell runs in her family where, at the onset of puberty, all the female members gain the ability to turn into a red panda whenever they feel rage, excitement or immense sorrow. Or any strong emotion for that matter. Ming tells Mei that this spell can only be cured by a family ritual done on the night of a blood moon when the red panda’s magic is strapped inside a stone which Mei can then wear on her neck. That stone must never break or the red panda spell will be unleashed. 

This is too much information to handle for thirteen year old Mei who already has so many things to deal with. But she dl jkoes her best to go about her school days without turning into a giant beast by clenching her jaw and holding in every strong feeling. 

Rosalie Chiang is outstanding as the self-assured girl thrown into turmoil and a life she didn’t ask for. Sandra Oh (Killing Eve) is equally brilliant as Mei’s domineering mother who is even more frightening in a crucial scene when she turns into a genormous red panda herself. We don’t see much of Mei’s grandmother as we would have liked to but perhaps we can get more of her in the sequel?

Anime and manga fans will enjoy spotting the many anime influences in this movie directed by Domee Shi (the talent behind the delightful Pixar short film ‘Bao’). We see anime influences in the way the characters are drawn, especially when our expressive characters display big, sparkly eyes at the sight of something irresistibly adorable. Domee Shi herself claims to have been inspired by the transformation subplot of the 80s classic ‘Sailor Moon’ where the protagonist can transform into a magical girl, as well as ‘Fruit Basket’ where the characters morph into animals.

Even if ‘Turning Red’ is set in the year 2002, there are some clearly Gen Z references made when Mei and her friends simp for a boy band called 4 Town (one of the members of the band looks a lot like today’s K-pop singers), or when Mei and gang twerk to hip hop music, albeit in a comical way. At one point, Mei spots her crush at the store and, not being able to help herself, exclaims “Awooga!” (“Awooga” is basically internet speak for “OMG, this person is hot”). It’s moments like these which will make the audience chuckle and connect better to the story. 

It is refreshing to see a Hollywood coming-of-age movie about a Chinese-Canadian girl who undergoes what is a very Chinese folklore-inspired adventure, but in the colourful city of Toronto. It’s a shame, though, that we could not watch the movie on the big screen like it was meant to be, with Disney choosing to put it on Disney+ instead. 

This fantasy tale is occasionally hilarious, at times emotional, and always awkwardly relatable with characters that are easy to root for. ‘Turning Red’ is certainly meant for younger children such as tweens, but who says teens and grown ups can’t enjoy this breezy little movie?

‘Turning Red’ is now streaming on Disney+

Also read | Top 5 anime series that will get you hooked


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  1. I distinctly remember taking my younger sister to a New Kids On The Block concert in the early to mid 90s. So boy bands have been around long before Gen Z was even born. K-pop did not invent the boy band, though they are certainly finding ways to perfect the formula. And this 48yo loved the movie and even though my teen years were more late 80s, I could still relate to so much of what those girls were going through. From rocky relationships with the parents to having musical crushes. Mine were big hair bands like Poison and Guns N’Roses.

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