Turning Red Movie Review: A Love Letter To Toronto And Parenting

Turning Red review Toronto

Not since Inside Out has a movie been so emotionally relevant for parents. That is, until Pixar’s Turning Red. The animated film uses fantastical mythology as an analogy for a young woman’s coming-of-age story. It’s a wonderful little story about a Chinese-Canadian teen, coming into womanhood. And just how that affects her personality and her relationship with her loved ones. But beyond the surface, the story acts as a metaphor for a young woman going through puberty, and all the changes in her life, physical and emotional, that are a part of it. So much of Turning Red has layers of comedy, silliness, and heart. But it’s also a period piece set in the early 2000s in Toronto, Canada, so there’s a bit of nostalgia as well. With the movie finally getting a theatrical release, let’s take a look at our spoiler-free Turning Red review.

Also: Please note that red pandas themselves are not mythological in nature, but actual animals that exist. Something that I totally knew about before watching this movie.

A Concept Done Many Times Before

Turning Red review Mei
Image via Disney+.

Turning Red is all about Meilin Lee (Rosalie Chiang) a 13-year-old Chinese-Canadian girl in Toronto. The movie begins as we run through Mei’s almost perfect life. She’s mature for her age, has a great head on her shoulders, has amazing friends and is very family-orientated. But things turn upside down as Meilin wakes up one day, as a giant red panda. She quickly realizes that her transformation has to do with her emotions. Calming down makes the panda go away, whereas anything excitable or stressful, brings her right back! So Meilin has to find a way to—bear down— and remain calm and zen to keep the panda at bay.

While I’ll discuss later in this Turning Red review how unique this idea is, allow me a tangent to explain others’ who have used it with success. We’ve seen the girl transforming into a wild animal as an analogy for a young girl going through puberty in Netflix’s Dino Girl anime. The show also featured a young woman who would become a dinosaur every time she got nervous, excited or stressed out. Pixar’s Turning Red uses a similar concept, but its demographic is seemingly for a more all-ages audience.

Turning Red Review Is Spoiler Free

Turning Red review panda.
Image via Disney+.

Pixar’s Turning Red is a beautiful movie. On the surface, it’s all about Mei freaking out about becoming a Panda, and how she deals with it. Along with her other usual teen girl problems like juggling school with family life, good grades and social commitments. But most importantly, an overbearing mother. This is really what the movie is about. On top of Mei’s Panda-ness, which is clearly an analogy for puberty, it’s also the changes in a young woman’s life that affect their relationship with their parents.

As a South Asian man, I don’t have a lot of overlap with what a teenage Chinese girl goes through during that transformative journey in her life. However, there is a spot in the Venn diagram when it comes to overbearing minority parents who have a hard time letting go of their kids. Mei’s mom Ming (Sandra Oh) is close to her daughter but also micromanages her life, with hilarity. As part of Mei’s journey to deal with this literal transformation into a Panda, it’s also her relationship with her mom that’s at stake here. Especially when she finds out that the Panda is part of a generational curse handed down from her ancestors! Or is it a misunderstood gift that needs to be embraced, rather than pushed away? Lots of metaphors in this movie!

Turning Red Is A Heartwarming Story For Parents & Children

Turning Red review Mom
Image via Disney+.

There are so many elements of Pixar’s Turning Red that are great. Mei’s relationship with her friends is super wholesome and a lot of fun to watch. The weird group is funny as hell and provides most of the film’s humour. The diversity within this cast is also incredibly unique for a Pixar movie. Not to mention that they’re hilarious! Their chemistry is great and the focus on friendship and how found family can be just as significant as one’s own is a wonderful message in the movie. Especially within minority communities, where family obligations and duties run the risk of becoming very toxic and unhealthy. Almost always leading to resentment and incredibly difficult family dynamics.

My biggest Turning Red review takeaway is how the movie is more about the relationship between parents and their kids. Mei’s transformation has unintended side effects, like forcing her to find out who she really is. Much of the film deals with the independence that comes with Mei solving a problem without her mother’s influence and making decisions on her own. It’s something that’s going to relate to a universal audience, despite their cultural background or family situations.

A Love Letter To An Early 2000’s Toronto

The thing that I can absolutely relate to in Pixar’s Turning Red, is how it’s set in Toronto in the early 2000s! The movie is so incredibly accurate when it comes to showcasing the city during that era. Mei sports a cute little digital Tamagotchi pet on her backpack. And without spoiling anything, the movie also has a great subplot revolving around boy bands, which were all the rage at that time. Everything from the TTC (Toronto Transit Commission) to the city’s hugely popular convenience store, the Daisy Mart, gets highlighted in this amazing new movie set in Toronto, about Toronto. The Toronto landmark of the Rogers Centre, formerly known as the Skydome, is prominently featured in the movie as well.

Pixar’s Turning Red is a sweet little movie that works as a wonderful analogy for growing up. It’s also a Disney Pixar movie that deals with ideas of womanhood and relationships that are surprising for a movie from that particular studio. Personally, I put it in the same category as Inside Out, another coming-of-age story about a teen. It’s a definite must-watch for Pixar fans, animated film fans and just fans of movies in general.

Pixar’s Turning Red re-releases in theatres on February 9, 2024

Are you excited about Turning Red in theatres? Let us know how you feel about the new fantasy film in the comments below. And follow me on X (Twitter) at @theshahshahid for more reviews on Pixar movies. 

Comment with Facebook
Turning Red Movie Review: A Love Letter To Toronto And Parenting
  • Acting - 7.5/10
  • Cinematography/Visual Effects - 7.5/10
  • Plot/Screenplay - 7/10
  • Setting/Theme - 8.5/10
  • Watchability - 8/10
  • Rewatchability - 7.5/10
User Review
0 (0 votes)

About Shah

Entertainment Writer | Film & TV Critic | Bollywood Blogger | Host of Split Screen Podcast | Proud Geek Girl Dad