Turning Red breaks the Pixar mold

Turning Red is not your average Pixar movie. 

Now, bear with me (pun intended). While the new film may seemingly have all the hallmarks of a Pixar release – beautiful animation, a relatable protagonist, even a huge, cute animal – it’s clear that there’s something very different going on here. 

Turning Red focuses on Meilin Lee, a teenage girl with a unique problem: whenever she gets particularly emotional about something, she transforms into a giant red panda. That’s quite the fantastical problem to have, but it’s a metaphor for Mei dealing with something very down to earth, and very new for Pixar: puberty. 

“We wanted to tell this unique coming-of-age-story about a girl going through big changes in her life,” director Shi recently told Total Film. “But I really wanted to punch the audience in the face with it!”

This is certainly no fairy tale, or a whimsical lesson on growing up – and it does not hold back from tackling messy, uncomfortable subjects head-on. Sure, Pixar has dealt with death (Coco), the meaning of life (Soul), and climate change (Wall-E), but the studio has never been quite so head-on. “From the very beginning of the movie, I just wanted to make it known that this isn’t going to be your typical Pixar movie,” Shi said, “that we’re not going to shy away from topics like puberty, and getting your period, and all kinds of cringey, awesome stuff.” 

Turning Red

(Image credit: Disney/Pixar)

Plus, that adorable-looking panda might not be quite so cuddly in practice. “Because she is a metaphor for when you do go through puberty, and, all of a sudden, you are so uncomfortable in your own body, and you’re hairy, and smelly, and you’re huge, and you’re so aware of everything, and your limbs are gangly,” Shi explains. 

Turning Red delves into further uncharted territory when it comes to its lead character. Mei marks the studio’s first ever Asian protagonist and the panda situation is the outcome of her family’s mystical connection with the creatures, tied to their Chinese heritage – a culture the studio has left unexplored up till this point. And with director Shi, who previously helmed the Pixar short Bao, Turning Red also marks the first Pixar film to be solo directed by a woman (Brenda Chapman co-directed Brave with Mark Andrews). 

Then there’s the unique, anime-style look of the film. Turning Red has gone down a whole new visual path with expressive, quirky characters that pull enough dramatic faces to spawn countless reaction GIFs, and a candy-toned color palette that means even a regular setting – 00’s Toronto – looks fresh. That’s without mentioning that this is the first Pixar film to break the fourth wall, too. 

So, while Turning Red may have those distinctive Pixar features, it’s doing something very different indeed – and it’s that kind of creativity that keeps the studio’s output so exciting. Here’s hoping Turning Red is the first of many Pixar movies that aren’t afraid to break the mold. 

Turning Red hits Disney Plus this March 11. In the meantime, check out our guide to the best movies on Disney Plus streaming now. 

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