‘Turning Red’: Our little girl is becoming a ... panda?

A spirited, borderline obnoxious 13-year-old makes Hulk-like transformations in underwhelming Pixar film.

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A look in the mirror reveals 13-year-old Meilin has turned into a giant red panda in “Turning Red.”


If you’re a parent watching “Turning Red” with kids who aren’t yet at the age where they should be learning about puberty, fair warning: You’re going to be answering a LOT of questions after this movie.

Well. Probably during the movie.

Here’s why. This brightly colored, occasionally soaring and funny but ultimately underwhelming and sputtering Pixar animated coming-of-age adventure is set in early 2000s Toronto and centers on 13-year-old Meilin Lee (Rosalie Chiang), who is humiliated in public by her strict and overbearing mother Ming (Sandra Oh) merely for having an innocent crush on an unsuspecting older teen. The following morning, after a terrifying dream, Meilin wakes up and discovers she has turned into a giant red panda. “I’m a gross monster!” she exclaims.

‘Turning Red’


Disney and Pixar present a film directed by Domee Shi and written by Shi and Julia Cho. Rated PG (for thematic material, suggestive content and language). Running time: 100 minutes. Available Friday on Disney+.

On the other side of the door, Mom thinks Meilin has had her first period and asks, “Did the red peony bloom?” Mom then gathers up an armload of menstrual pads and says, “I have pads … regular, overnight, scented, unscented, thin, ultra-thin, ultra-thin with wings. … You are a woman now, and your body is starting to change. … You are now a beautiful, strong flower who must protect her delicate petals and clean them regularly.”

As I said: The little ones might have questions. Or maybe it’ll all just go flying over their heads and you can distract them with snacks from the kitchen. (Alas, no theatrical release for this one.)

There’s something bold and original about the premise of “Turning Red,” which is basically the 13-year-old girl version of “The Hulk” in that whenever Meilin’s emotions run too deep, she turns into the panda — albeit a cute, cuddly, self-aware panda — and the only way she can return to human form is to CALM DOWN. And there’s no denying the talents of director Domee Shi (Oscar winner for the 2018 animated short “Bao”) and the infectious, energetic performances of the voice cast, particularly Rosalie Chiang as Meilin. The problems are mostly with the script, which often requires Meilin to be almost irritatingly obnoxious. Meanwhile, her mother behaves like a monster for much of the story, which takes on an increasingly supernatural element to the point where there’s a “Ghostbusters” homage.


Meilin (center, voice of Rosalie Chiang) and her friends are anticipating a big concert by their favorite boy band.


It’s interesting to see what happens to Meilin when her secret is discovered at school. Instead of being horrified, her classmates think this whole panda thing is awesome, to the point where Meilin is hired to perform at a snobby kid’s birthday party. Meanwhile, Meilin and her three besties, Miriam (Ava Morse), Pryia (Maitreyi Ramakrishnan) and Abby (Hyein Park) are desperately trying to raise the funds to see the boy band 4*Town at the Toronto SkyDome, and Billie Eilish and Finneas O’Connell have done such a good job of mimicking that early 2000s boy-band sound that the tunes are unbearably saccharine pop crapola. And we have to listen to them.

When Meilin’s grandmother (Wai Ching Ho) and a whole group of aunties arrive from Florida, we learn more about the family’s generational and magical connection to pandas, and Ming does everything in her powers to stop Meilin from ever turning into a panda again, but Meilin proclaims: “My panda, my choice, Mom,” and for all the great intentions behind that line, it sticks out like a tweet more than an organic moment of expression.

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