[Screen It]


(2022) (voices of Rosalie Chiang, Sandra Oh) (PG)

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Computer-Animated Comedy: A young teen must contend with a family curse where any strong emotions turn her into a giant red panda.

It's 2002 and Mei Lee (voice of ROSALIE CHIANG) is a 13-year-old who lives in Toronto with her parents -- Ming (voice of SANDRA OH) and Jin Lee (voice of ORION LEE) -- and helps in their running of the oldest Asian temple in the city. Her best friends are Miriam (voice of AVA MORSE), Priya (voice of MAITREYI RAMAKRISHNAN), and Abby (voice of HYEIN PAR), and all of them are completely infatuated with the boy band 4 Town that's performing in concert in the city in a few weeks.

Mei Lee's enthusiasm for that, however, takes a back seat when she discovers that she's inherited a family curse that only runs on the female side. And that's when girls reach a certain age, and any strong emotions come into play, they transform into giant red pandas. Initially, Mei Lee is terribly embarrassed by and mad about this, but her friends help calm her down and she soon learns that it's actually made her popular among other kids.

All of which worries Ming -- as well as her mom and aunts when they show up to help -- since the greater the number of times Mei Lee turns into her giant panda, the harder it will be to suppress that in a few weeks when a ritual ceremony that can only take place during the red moon will be held.

With Mei Lee and her friends still wanting to attend the 4 Town concert and realizing they can use her "gift" to raise money for the tickets, it's uncertain if she'll abuse the switchover power to the point that she'll end up forever stuck in her panda form.

OUR TAKE: 7 out of 10

Since everyone but pre-adolescents have been there and done that, so-called coming of age films and the characters within them are near-universally easy to identify with. And that's because everyone old enough has gone through the awkward and embarrassing transition from childhood to the teen years that includes changes in one's body, romantic/sexual longings and related crushes toward others, often strained interactions with one's parents, and strong bonds with close friends.

Most such films are quite literal in depicting all of that, while a few occasionally get a bit more artsy and creative in those matters. Such is the case with "Turning Red," the latest highly entertaining offering from Pixar that opted to skip theaters and head straight to Disney's streaming service.

Interested far more with the feminine take on all things coming of age, the flick is nevertheless engaging for all viewers not only due to the universality of the pivotal transition in life, but also Pixar's innate ability to tell stories that connect on various levels. As written by Julia Cho & Domee Shi (who also directs), however, the film is one of the few that's laser-focused on the reproductive changes girls face -- namely getting one's period for the first time.

The beauty of how it's done is through its use of its central metaphor -- a giant red panda -- that purposefully or coincidentally represents a variety of things ranging from one's flow to turning red from embarrassment to hormonal-based anger. For 13-year-old Mei Lee (voiced by Rosalie Chiang), she's yet to experience any of that, simply honoring her parents (Sandra Oh and Orion Lee) when not having fun with her friends (Ava Morse, Hyein Park, and Maitreyi Ramakrishnan), and not yet fully understanding their crush on a local boy.

But then one morning, Mei Lee wakes up to discover -- much to her shock and embarrassment -- that she's turned into a ginormous red panda, with her mom, Ming, thinking it wasn't going to happen yet despite all of the women in the family, including her, having gone through the same thing when they were younger. Of course, in keeping with the PG metaphor, their red panda "curse" is literally that, thanks to something an ancestor did long ago that brought it on and then passed it down the hereditary line.

And thus, Mei Lee tries to hide this change from everyone, but her pals -- doing what close friends are apt to do -- love her however she might be and welcome her to the club of the hormonally challenged. That includes finding boys more interesting -- especially a boy pop band known as 4 Town that's going to put on a concert in the local Toronto arena -- and now suddenly being snappy toward her mom.

After that, the basic plot thrust is the girls trying to find a way to attend the concert, while Ming and her recently arrived mother and aunts plan a ritual ceremony that can only be held during the red moon that will suppress Mei Lee's red panda "curse."

As is the case with nearly every Pixar offering, there are decent amounts of humor, some action, and plenty of heart-tugging moments. All of which means "Turning Red" is a delight to behold, regardless of your age or gender, although girls may appreciate the focus finally shining a light on their coming of age changes. The film rates as a 7 out of 10.

Reviewed February 28, 2022 / Posted March 11, 2022

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