Being a teenager is not easy. It’s full of awkward changes that help shape us into, hopefully, wise and caring adults. You could say it’s a transformative time for all of us, and in Pixar’s latest animated feature, they take that concept to the extreme.
Turning Red is about a young girl named Meilin, who has just become a teenager, and the weirdness that starts to happen during this stage of her life. In addition to what you’re probably thinking about, she has to deal with another weird change in her life–becoming a giant red panda every time she gets emotionally excited. Despite the silly premise that sounds like a Hulk story but for younger audiences, the movie has some surprisingly resonant themes throughout. As you learn more about the red panda shape shifting ability, you begin to realize what the true meaning behind the film is, and it might end up being a bit of a tear jerker for some viewers. I will avoid discussing the plot further in order to save the surprises of the film for you and just say that I was quite surprised by some touching scenes. I wish those scenes happened more frequently though. This is a movie that isn’t necessarily for me. From some of the physical humor to its teenage inappropriateness, I just didn’t find this movie really funny. It didn’t click for me, and that’s ok because I know it will make someone laugh and bring them great joy. For me, I found a lot of it a bit cringy. I guess I have a certain expectation whenever I see the Pixar lamp jump across the screen before a movie begins, and sure, they’ve made comical and sometimes extremely campy movies before. This one definitely feels like one of them, except this has a bit more heart to it. I can’t argue against the emotional resonance that’s at the center of this story, but I feel as though the movie leaned a bit too much towards the goofy comedy aspects rather than finding a nice balance between the silly and the serious. By the time the movie got serious and showed us what the story was really about, I almost didn’t care because I halfway expected another joke about puberty to show up any second. Looking back, I do like those serious moments, but the overabundance of gags and shenanigans made the movie less impactful for me. Turning Red has its charms and will undoubtedly have its fans due to its uniqueness in the animation world, but the style and execution may vary based on the artistic taste of the viewer.
Visually, Turning Red takes on an aesthetic inspired by other art styles and blends it with the high quality we've come to know from Pixar. I am really loving how Pixar has been mixing different styles to help make their movies stand out from other animated features. This movie takes on more of an anime look, with some elements of a modern 2D television series, such as the rebooted Ducktales series. This gives the animators plenty of opportunities to exaggerate the characters and their emotions in extreme ways. From enlarging eyes to colorful blasts bombarding the screen, the childhood cartoon vibes are on full display. Not only are the characters very eye-catching, but the environments are a well-executed blend of Asian art and western structures. As someone who loves Asian art, this was a visual treat for me, and because Pixar loves showing off how powerful their computers are, there was a ton of detail in each environment. It's a captivating world filled with multicultural inspirations, which creates one of the more unique looks to be seen in an animated movie.
Like the very expressive characters, the voice cast demanded your attention. This is where I think some audience members may vary in their enjoyment. Let me be clear that no one did a bad job. I bet watching these actors record their lines was an absolute blast. I can only imagine they had the time of their lives behind the mic, but like the television inspirations this movie takes after, the cast did a lot of yelling, a lot of loud breathing, and noises that probably sound extremely silly without context. At times, it reminded me of Teen Titans Go! and how the characters just screamed and raised their voices all the time. Again, the cast didn't do a bad job. When the script decided to be serious, the actors did a great job portraying the heavy emotions, but that only happens a few times. The voice direction is definitely different this time around for Pixar. Like the movie's style, the voice work is loud, crazy, fun, and sometimes obnoxious.
Turning Red gave me mixed feelings. On the one hand, I admire the creativity and artistry on display, as well as the heartfelt message of family and generational pain. On the other, I didn't laugh at most of the jokes and felt as though I was watching a lower budget television show. Of course, this could just be reflective of my taste in humor. I can see this being an absolute delight for younger, more modern viewers, and that's ok. Not every movie Pixar makes has to be a gut puncher like Up, Inside Out, and Toy Story 3. Sometimes, it's ok to let loose and be a goofball…or a red panda in this case.
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