Friday, March 10, 2023

Turning Red


Directed by Domee Shi and screenplay by Shi and Julia Cho from a story by Shi, Cho, and Sarah Streicher, Turning Red is the story of a Chinese-Canadian teenage girl who turns into a red panda due to a hereditary curse she has inherited from her family as it plays into her growing pains as well as trying to defy the ideas of expectations from her mother. The film is a coming-of-age animated film that follows a young girl who experiences growing pains as she enters into an age where many things change for her in the most unexpected ways as well as coping with the curse she’s inherited from her family. Featuring the voices of Rosalie Chiang, Sandra Oh, Ava Morse, Hyein Park, Maitreyi Ramakrishnan, Orion Lee, Wai Ching Ho, Tristan Allerick Chen, and James Hong. Turning Red is a majestic and exhilarating film from Domee Shi.

Set in 2002 Toronto, the film revolves around a thirteen-year old Chinese-Canadian girl who experiences growing pains as it leads to becoming a red panda with her mother trying to stop the curse from happening at a worst possible time as it plays into expectations and identity for this young girl. It is a film that does play into this young girl coming of age as her issues is sort of a metaphor about young women having their periods when it is really about a relationship between this young girl and her strict and overprotective mother. The film’s screenplay by Domee Shi and Julia Cho is set during a time period when teen-pop music was still hot with teenage girls being into boy-bands with this Chinese-Canadian girl in Meilin “Mei” Lee (Rosalie Chiang) is someone torn with not just pleasing her mother Ming (Sandra Oh) but also wanting to do things other teenage girls do as she and her three fans are big fans of this boy-band known as 4*Town while gaining an attraction for boys.

Ming would discover drawings Mei made over a young convenience store clerk as she would embarrass Mei as it would lead to a dream involving red pandas as Mei would discover herself as a red panda the next morning. For Mei, it comes at the worst time as Ming would discover this and reveal she went through the same thing but claims to have a cure for it as a ritual would be performed on the day of a red moon lunar eclipse. Mei’s friends would discover Mei as a red panda but accepts her problems as they would support her until a game of dodgeball where an antagonistic classmate gets her angry as she becomes the red panda much to the delight of a lot of her classmates who thinks she is the cutest thing. Mei and her friends would use the red panda as a way to raise money to buy concert tickets to see 4*Town while not revealing anything to Ming as the concert is a week before the red moon lunar eclipse yet Ming’s mother/Mei’s grandmother Wu (Wai Ching Ho) is set to arrive in Toronto for the ritual with Mei’s aunts as well where a lot of revelations are unveiled. Even as it play into Ming’s own experiences as the red panda and her own relationship with her mother forcing Mei to make decisions for herself and what she wants.

Shi’s direction is definitely full of lively visuals and lavish presentation as it is set in 2002 Toronto during a lively time in popular culture as it relates to the music teenagers were listening to. Even as there’s a lot of attention to detail in Shi’s direction as it relates to the people living in Toronto as there’s not just Asians but also people of Indian/Pakistani/Punjab descendants, Koreans, African-Canadians, and many others where it is this community where everyone lives together and interact where Mei helps her parents run one of the few Chinese temples in the city. With the aid of animation supervisors Aaron J. Hartline and Patty Kihm as well as production designer Rona Liu, with art directors Jason Deamer, Carlos Felipe Leon Ortiz, Laura Meyer, and Kristian Norelius, in bringing a lot of attention to detail on the look of the Lee’s family temple and the places in and around Toronto. The city is a key character in the film as it play into Mei’s own growth as well as this sense of conflict over doing everything to please the parents or to follow your heart.

Shi’s direction does have a lot of wide shots that often feature shots of CN Tower in the background as well as the Rogers Centre (then known as the SkyDome) with the latter being the centerpiece of the film where 4*Town is to perform. There are some unique close-ups and medium shots that Shi creates in the animation as it plays into Mei’s emotional mood swings such as the moment she discovers she became a red panda as well as her mother’s reaction. The film’s third act relates to not just the ritual that would free Mei from her red panda persona but also this concert that she and her friends want to go to as it plays into a conflict that Mei goes through. Even as there’s revelations about her mother and her own complicated relationship with Mei’s grandmother as it culminates with this moment of a young girl trying to understand her mother and the pressures of a child having to do whatever they can to live their own life but also to please their parents. Overall, Shi crafts a riveting and intoxicating film about a young girl dealing with growing pains by turning into a red panda.

Cinematographers Mahyar Abousaeedi and Jonathan Pytko do amazing work with the film’s cinematography in creating lighting schemes for some of the interior scenes at night as well as the look of the ritual for the film’s climax. Editors Nicholas C. Smith and Steve Bloom do excellent work with the editing in playing up some of the humor and action-inspired moments with some straightforward cuts as well as some stylistic moments. Visual effects supervisor Danielle Feinberg does nice work with the visual effects to help enhance the look of some of the sets as well as creating some effects for some of the filmed video stuff that Mei and her friends create. Sound designer Ren Klyce and co-sound editor Coya Elliott do brilliant work with the sound as it help play into the way music sounds from afar as well as the sound effects in Mei’s transformation into a red panda. The film’s music by Ludwig Goransson is incredible with its mixture of traditional Chinese instruments and orchestral elements to play into this clash of cultures while its music soundtrack features additional music from Destiny’s Child, DJ Casper, and a couple of Asian boy bands plus original songs by Billie Eilish and Finneas O’Connell for the fictional group 4*Town that features vocals from O’Connell, Jordan Fisher, Josh Levi, Topher Ngo, and Grayson Villanueva as the group singing these songs in the style of early 2000s pop music as it is a highlight of the film.

The casting by Natalie Lyon and Kevin Reher is wonderful as it feature some notable small voice contributions from the quartet of Lori Tan Chinn, Lillian Lim, Sherry Cola, and Mia Tagano as Mei’s aunts, Lily Sanfelippo as a classmate in Stacy who is among the first who sees the red panda as she thinks it is cute, Sasha Roiz as one of Mei’s teachers in school, Addie Chandler as a convenience store clerk whom Mei and her friends have a crush on, Tristan Allerick Chen as a classmate named Tyler whom Mei and her friends aren’t fond of as he’s often antagonistic towards them, and James Hong in a terrific small voice role as a local elder in Mr. Gao who helps take part in the ritual as its shaman. Wai Ching Ho is fantastic as Mei’s grandmother/Ming’s mother Wu as a woman who is aware of what is going on with Mei while also trying to reconnect with Ming feeling that there’s unfinished business. Orion Lee is excellent as Mei’s father/Ming’s husband Jin as a man who is often quiet while understanding what is going on yet believes that Ming is expecting too much from Mei where he would discover something about Mei’s time as a red panda that would prove to be inspiring.

The trio of Hyein Park, Maitreyi Ramakrishnan, and Ava Morse are amazing in their respective roles as the aggressive and energetic Korean-Canadian Abby Park, the mellow Indo-Canadian Priya Mangal, and the tomboyish Miriam Mendelsohn as Mei’s best friends who are big fans of 4*Town as they also help Mei with her dilemma despite the fact that Ming thinks they’re a bad influence. Sandra Oh is brilliant as Mei’s mother Ming as a woman who expects the best from her daughter but is also strict and overprotective where she slowly unravels over what Mei becomes as well as not letting Mei be herself. Finally, there’s Rosalie Chiang in an incredible voice performance as Meilin “Mei” Lee as a thirteen-year old Chinese-Canadian teenager who experiences growing pains in the form of a red panda whenever she gets really emotional as she doesn’t just deal with this new identity but also her own issues with her mother but also not wanting to go against her as it is a performance filled with energy and angst.

Turning Red is a phenomenal film from Domee Shi. Featuring a great ensemble voice cast, themes of growing pains and generational conflicts, dazzling visuals, and an amazing music score and soundtrack. The film isn’t just this compelling coming-of-age film that explores a young girl coming of age but also an exploration of the mother-daughter relationship and the expectations parents have towards their children that are overwhelming at times. In the end, Turning Red is a sensational film from Domee Shi.

Pixar Films: Toy Story - A Bug's Life - Toy Story 2 - (Monsters Inc.) – (Finding Nemo) – The Incredibles - Cars - Ratatouille - WALL-E - Up - Toy Story 3 - Cars 2 - Brave - Monsters University - Inside Out - The Good Dinosaur - (Finding Dory) – (Cars 3) – Coco (2017 film) - The Incredibles 2 - (Onward) – Soul (2020 film) - (Luca (2021 film)) – (Lightyear) – (Elemental (2023 film)) – (Elio (2024 film)) – (Inside Out 2) – (Toy Story 5)

© thevoid99 2023


SJHoneywell said...

I am continually staggered that this movie was even remotely controversial. While it wasn't close to my favorite animated movie from last year, there's nothing that should be remotely controversial about it.

thevoid99 said...

@SJHoneywell-I don't understand what was so controversial about this film either. People are freaking out over periods? Seriously? Ugh... these people have gotten soft and coddled. I blame their parents and all of that adult contemporary bullshit they listened to.

ruth said...

I LOVE this movie and Domee Shi did an amazing job. If you haven't checked out her short film BAO, you should do that soon, it's absolutely wonderful and heartfelt. I was initially rooting for this before I saw del Toro's Pinocchio, but I'm glad this one was nominated for Oscars.

thevoid99 said...

@Ruth-I have seen Bao years ago as it was the short that came before The Incredibles 2 as I really liked that one. This is a great film though I much prefer del Toro's Pinocchio on a personal and technical level but Turning Red I do feel is an important film to see.

ruth said...

I much prefer del Toro's Pinocchio as well and that's coming from a woman of Asian descent, ahah. I do think this one is exceptional and important as you say, but I'm glad Pinocchio won as that film sits on a level above the rest that was nominated this year.