On March 11, 2022, Disney Pixar’s latest animated film, Turning Red, debuts on Disney+. This coming-of-age feature — set in Toronto in 2002 — focuses on 13-year-old Mei Lee (voice of Rosalie Chiang) who is dealing with the typical chaos and drama of being a teenager while also trying to remain a dutiful daughter to an overbearing, overprotective mother (Ming – voice of Sandra Oh). When it all becomes too much for the adolescent, Mei Lee finds herself transformed into a giant red panda.
This Mulan meets Teenwolf narrative is all too familiar and predictable. Watch the original 1985 comedy Teenwolf starring Michael J. Fox —if you didn’t watch it a million times as a kid and have it forever stored in your memory— before or after watching Turning Red and tell me you don’t see all the parallels between the two films. Personally, I found it a bit distracting. As a Gen-Xer, it is getting tiring seeing so many of our childhood films, tv shows, etc. being remade or rebooted. Hollywood is running out of original ideas. I always saw Pixar as a creator of inventive and creative storytelling. So I find it disappointing that this film came from the same studio that created Toy Story.
I understand that myself and fellow Gen-Xers are not the target audience for Turning Red but who is? Is it current adolescents and tweens? If so, then why is it set in 2002–twenty years ago? The N’Sync styled boy band 4-town that Mei Lee and her friends obsess over would spark nostalgia to those now in their 20s-30s (maybe to the Gen-X New Kids On The Block fans as well). These are generations that might watch it with their kids who are entering the tween or adolescent stage. It would be interesting to get their opinions of this film when it drops on Disney+.
The feature does have some positive attributes like having a non-white non-American protagonist. It is refreshing to have a film set in Canada with diverse characters. The focus of the film also seems to center around female relationships — Mei Lee’s group of friends (no Mean Girls hierarchy in this group), Mei Lee’s relationship with her mother and Ming’s relationship with her own mother and sisters. I will remain quiet about other plot points and details to avoid spoilers.
Overall, Turning Red is OK. If I had to grade it, I guess I would give it a C. However, I would consider watching it again to see if I can get past the whole Teenwolf thing (which perhaps the filmmakers were unaware of) and see if it grows on a Gen-Xer like myself. I am curious as to what others in my generation (and younger) think of this film.
My recommendation — if you have Disney+, I definitely recommend you watch Turning Red and form your own opinion. I would love to know what you think.
Disney Pixar’s Turning Red debuts on March 11th on Disney+.