Plot: What’s it about?
OK, first thing’s first – if you don’t know what a red panda is and/or how adorable they are, check out this video. See? They’re a combination of a raccoon and a panda bear. I don’t know how they came to be, but I could watch them all day. And as cute as they are, it’s a bit odd that Disney would choose to make a movie about a girl turning into one. In a way, this film is somewhat of a “spiritual successor” to Inside Out – Pixar’s 2015 film about the internal workings of a teen after a move to a new town. Here we meet a character who literally turns into a red panda when she gets excited (which, by the way, is way more often that we’d think). As if being a teenager on the brink of adulthood isn’t bad enough, I can only imagine how much worse it’d be if someone were to turn into an animal every time their hormones were engaged. If this piques your curiosity, Turning Red is for you.
Mei Lee (voiced by Rosalie Chiang) is a normal teenager living in Canada with her mother (voiced by Sandra Oh) and her father (voiced by Orion Lee). She and her friends are obsessed with a band called 4*Town (think of them as Backstreet Boys or N’Sync). However Mei’s life changes when she wakes up from a rough night’s sleep only to discover that she’s turned into, you guessed it, a giant red panda. Eventually Ming learns to deal with this “problem” in that when she keeps her cool, it’s fine but whenever she feels something too strongly, it’s red panda time. To add fuel to her adolescent fire, Mei and her friends attend a 4*Town concert on the same night that Ming intends to force her daughter to participate in a ceremony designed to lock her “panda side” away. What’s a girl/panda to do?
Don’t let the fact that this is a Disney/Pixar production fool you, there are a lot of adult-oriented themes happening. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. This also serves the basic theme, which is that adolescence is a time of confusion for, well, pretty much everyone. If this seems like a rather odd film, it’s because it is. This has to be the weirdest Pixar film to date and we’ve had some that are pretty far out there. As expected, the talent involved does a fine job, though I still don’t know why animation has to rely on well-known stars like Sandra Oh to lend her talent in the role of a mother. Aren’t there plenty of other equally talented voice actors out there who could have done this role for a fraction of the cost? Neverthless, Pixar’s budget isn’t really a point of concern. But this might be a good movie to show a teenager who’s dealing things that teens deal with. Granted, in the real world they don’t turn into animals, but in the immortal words of Wooderson from Dazed and Confused – “…it’d be a lot cooler if they did.”
Video: How’s it look?
I think, by now, we all know what to expect when we pop in a Pixar movie in our Blu-ray (or even DVD) player. Yeah, stunning, excellent, amazing, jaw-dropping and so forth. Turning Red is certainly no exception. The 2.39:1 AVC HD transfer is literally candy for the eyes. There’s no shortage of flare and color, and the animation is so life like you want to reach out through the screen and pet the adorable red panda (note: this is not possible). Detail in the backgrounds is amazing, the texture in the hair and clothes is stunning… As I so often say, I could go on and on but I think it’s safe to say that no one will be let down when it comes to how this looks on screen.
Audio: How’s it sound?
Though it’s a bit disappointing that this isn’t presented with a Dolby Atmos sound mix, it’s nothing I lost sleep over. The DTS HD Master Audio soundtrack more than earns its stripes. Vocals are so rich and clear, that it’s almost like the actors are sitting behind the TV reading their lines. LFE have several instances in the film as well. Directional effects provide an almost dizzying effect that have, at some points, the sound bouncing off the speakers. This is a lively and action-packed mix. Surrounds are ever so active and do exactly what’s needed to give the soundtrack some depth. There’s really not a thing wrong with the way this sounds – prepare to be amazed.
Supplements: What are the extras?
- Audio Commentary – View the film with audio commentary by director Domee Shi, producer Lindsey Collins, and director of photography Mahyar Abousaeedi.
- Life of a Shot – Domee Shi and members of the crew describe the many-layered process and artistry involved in creating the hilarious Red Peony scene – from observing red pandas in a zoo to creating a storyboard to finalizing the animation and background lighting.
- Build Your Own Boy Band – Step backstage to learn how 4*TOWN came to animated life. From creating each band member’s persona to writing and producing the songs to fine-tuning the details of their stadium performance, the filmmakers reveal how they designed the ultimate boy band.
- Ani-Mei-Tion – Because Mei’s heightened emotionality is central to the story, it was important that her look and movement reflect that energy. Learn how Domee Shi led the animation team to incorporate hints of expressive anime to create Mei’s lovable, dynamic character.
- Deleted Scenes
- Deleted Scenes Introduction –Director Domee Shi introduces scenes not included in the final version of Turning Red.
- Intro Meilin – In this alternate opening, Ming and young Mei have their portrait taken in a studio…but Ming has her own specific vision for the photo.
- Taming The Panda – Under her mother’s guidance, Mei learns techniques to control her ability to magically turn into a red panda…to varying degrees of success.
- The Debate – Mei runs for class president against frenemy Tyler, and the speeches get a little out of hand.
- Fei And Christina Hang – Mei (formerly Fei) shares a banana split while having a heart-to-heart with Aunt Christina.
- 4*TOWN Dilemma – Mei scores tickets to her dream concert, but her strict mother won’t let her out of the house. What will she do?
- Roping In Leo – Pleading with Leo for help with getting out of trouble, Mei learns a couple of his closely guarded secrets.
- Easter Egg – Robutton Deleted Scene – An alternate ending in which Mei, finding herself sitting next to her 4*TOWN dream-idol Robaire on a flight to California, has some feelings.
The Bottom Line
Two and a half decades later, Pixar continues to churn out some top notch entertainment. What’s more appealing is that the film is equally applicable to kids/teens as it is adults. It’s a testament to that time in people’s lives that’s scary, yet amazing at the same time. Disney’s disc looks and sounds great and the assortment of extras only sweetens the deal.