“You’re never not on my mind, oh my, oh my/
I’m never not by your side, your side, your side/
I’m never gon’ let you cry, oh cry, don’t cry/
I’ll never not be your ride or die, alright”

Try getting that earworm out of your head! I dare you!

TURNING RED is such a delightful movie. The energy in director/co-writer Domee Shi’s (BAO) voice is fun and infectious, as is the performance from newcomer Rosalie Chiang. But more important than the breezy, face-paced nature of the movie is the pure relatability and heart in every factor of protagonist Meilin Lee’s struggles growing up, dealing with overbearing parents, and the threat of public embarassment.

This is a universal story. No matter what any critic or edge-lord thug on the internet will complain about. We all have parents that are protective. We all have parents that are embarassing. And we all go through changes that have the potential to distance ourselves from our parents as we grow up. For people to go around complaining about “wokeness” or “inability to relate” to a story like this, while praising the heck out of other movies like ENCANTO or COCO simply equates to ridiculous double standards and cheap ways to knock down Asian voices trying to tell personal stories. And frankly, as an Asian critic, who has spent his life sitting through dozens of movies speaking to the plight and struggles of every White American growing up, from MY GIRL to PERKS OF BEING A WALL FLOWER (both of which I consider to be classics by the way), is it too much to ask for people to see things through our perspective too? Is it that much of a sacrifice to let filmmakers in our culture tell our stories too?

But I digress. The film’s charms go beyond my ability to relate to it. It’s hilarious for one. Meilin and her friends have the best reactions to things, with a sense of mischief and pre-pubescent wonder that keeps you engaged and laughing. And their relationship is so incredibly sweet. How she relies on them to get through the challenges of everyday life, especially her mother’s expectations of her, is perfectly done. But, as stated before, the heart of this movie is the relationship between Meilin and her mother, which is so perfectly written. It’s broken, but loving, and sympathetic. And what Shi captures so perfectly well is that there are no easy answers when it comes to family. TURNING RED is incredibly honest and reallistic about that.

I’m not looking to cut down a movie like ENCANTO to promote TURNING RED, per se. But upon subsequent viewings of that movie, I couldn’t help but find myself liking it less and less, because the ending is way too perfect. There’s no real conflict. Abuela and Mirabel have a talk, there’s a flashback, and suddenly everything’s fine. Years of suffering at the hands of a woman who’s driven her family apart, not to mention traumatized her only son into living in the walls for 15 years after they turned their backs on him, have no weight anymore because they sing a catchy song and everyone’s good. Trauma resolved. Give me a break.

TURNING RED, in contrast, recognizes things aren’t that easy. Life is messy. Trauma and parental expectations get handed down from generation to generation. Who we grow into does have the potential to distance ourselves from our parents when they discover the fact that who we really are doesn’t always perfectly match the image they had for us when we were little. And that’s not a bad thing. Because they (we) all become individuals that way. And we just have to accept that and work hard at preserving and fostering the love that exists regardless of how much we vary from those parental expectations of us. That’s the message of the movie, and I love and embrace the beauty and reality in every frame of it.

On a technical level the animation style evokes a loving homage to anime culture and Kaiju movies, which makes it feel quite different from other Pixar films before it. There’s a charm to Shi’s style that sets it apart from every other Pixar film, giving more of a rounded, exaggerated edge to her characters similar to what she did in BAO. I loved it. It’s so cheerful and fantastical in a Tex Avery sort of way. And the 4-Town music in the film, courtesy of Billie Eilish, is seriously catchy, as mentioned above.

Overall it’s just a terrific story, with terrific relationships, humor, animation, and music. Don’t let the lower audience reviews of unhinged trolls dissuade you. TURNING RED is a fun charmer, and a relatable, heartfelt story for everyone!

Mike Manalo

Born a Slytherin. Baptized into Marvel. Bitten by a Radioactive DC fan. And raised a Jedi, Mike Manalo is a silent guardian, a watchful protector… a Dark Nerd!

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