'Turning Red': Does this make you uncomfortable?
Pixar's newest movie is a woman-directed, coming-of-age film where a red-headed daughter finds herself rebelling against an overbearing mother during the course of an adventure involving human-to-animal transformation of a bear-like nature; that worked out so well for all involved last time.
Let's see: they replaced Brenda Chapman half-way through production, and her career still hasn't recovered; the movie was the first non-Cars Pixar movie to not reach a 90% on Rotten Tomatoes; and, most importantly, readers didn't like my review of it very much. Seriously, the best thing to come out of Brave was the line "She's from the other studio." in Ralph Breaks the Internet, which unfortunately was the best thing to come out of Ralph Breaks the Internet.
Still, it's been a few months shy of a decade since Brave came out, and it sure has been a decade for Pixar. Domee Shi is Pixar's second woman director, and is actually the sole director this time. Turning Red tells the story of Meilin "Mei" Lee (voiced by Rosalie Chiang), a Canadian girl whose female family members are both blessed and... inconvenienced by the ability to transform into a red panda when experiencing strong emotions after hitting puberty. It's available to stream on Disney+.
I'm going to be honest here, but when I first saw the trailer, I knew this movie was not for me. In my defense, my reaction boiled down to "I'm getting old." An issue with reviewing mainstream furry movies is that, for the most part, a critic is discussing movies where the primary audience is children, but discussing them for an audience that's primarily not. The movie felt aimed at the current generation, which is understandable, as that's the target audience. I'm a thirty-something with no children of my own. I can accept this movie literally is not for me. And seeing as how Pixar's next movie is Lightyear, a movie designed to appeal to my generation's nostalgia for the Toy Story movies, I really have nothing to complain about.
So, I'm not going to. In fact, of the two, Turning Red doing something I'm not familiar with sounds a lot more exciting than Lightyear doing something I am. But, going back to reviewing children's movies for adults, this is the movie where we're going to need to get into the primary audience versus secondary audience discussion. The movie is surprisingly blunt about it, so I might as well be.
This is a movie about puberty, and Mei's panda transformations are tied to this. While I wouldn't go so far as to say a kid watching this who does not know what menstruation is will know what it is after, and the word "period" isn't uttered, there are explicit mentions and even depictions of pads and the other accoutrements of female hygiene. If that makes you uncomfortable, you might want to pass on this movie. Me, I'm fine with it going there, and think the movie approaching these issues realistically in addition to metaphorically makes it a possible teaching tool for its target audience. Though, once again, that's the opinion of one non-parent, for what that's worth.
From a furry perspective, however, I found the movie surprisingly relatable. Besides the generational gap between the character's viewpoint and my own, there's also national (Canada vs. USA), cultural, ethnic and racial (Chinese vs. white Midwesterner), gender (female vs. male), and even religious (Buddhist vs. Christian) differences between me and the protagonist, and yet the specifics of the story make the universality of the experiences described hit harder. It's a coming-of-age story.
The central conflict is between a mother and a daughter reacting to the changes brought on by the daughter's transformation. The fact that this transformation is literally into an animal is why I'm reviewing this for furries, but even for "oh, no, I've turned into an animal!" stories, this one feels like it's a furry story. It turns out transforming into a red panda is an ability that Mei's family has been giving up for generations now. At first, Mei is quite ready for this, but eventually, she learns she likes being the panda. She transforms on the sly, keeping it a secret from her parents, until it's no longer possible. She must make a choice as to whether she wants to be a good girl for her mother, or if she keeps being the panda. "Will I regret this?" she asks.
Oh, just every day of your life, little sister. But some things are worth regretting.
Well, enough about the psycho-drama, let's actually talk about Brave some more. Besides the obvious improvement of hiring a woman to tell a female story and then, you know, letting her actually tell it, one of my original complaints about Brave - and Pixar in general - is how sterile they feel. Pixar's animated movies just don't feel that animated to me. They don't feel like cartoons. And you can like that, a lot of people do, but, once again, Lightyear is right there, so it looks like you're getting that style this year anyway. But, as for Turning Red, well, does it feel like a cartoon?
At one point, our protagonist, in red panda form, begins twerking aggressively at her own mother. "Does this make you uncomfortable?" she asks. I mean, thanks for asking, but I doubt this would be even the first time I've seen the keywords "red panda" "twerking" and "mother" together thanks to e621. But, also, thanks for actually coming out to play for once.
Note: This movie is streaming only, but was originally meant for theatrical release [it instead has a limited engagement at El Capitan and Empire], and I'm actually kind of upset about that. Obviously, stay safe in the still not really finished Covid-19 pandemic, and if you don't feel comfortable going to theaters just yet, don't, but Disney has been releasing movies theatrically for over a year now, and it's only the post-Lassiter Pixar films that are consistently being sent to Disney+ like this, which feels a little bit iffy to me.