By combining elements of high school dramas with tropes from monster movies, Turning Red is about the turmoil 13-year-old Meilin ‘Mei’ Lee (voiced by Rosalie Chiang) experiences when she discovers she can transform into a giant red panda. A charismatic overachiever, Mei’s struggles with self-identity, emotional upheaval and a changing body makes Turning Red an excellent example of how the universal can resonate through the specific.
Never afraid of tackling sensitive and mature themes through animation and fantasy, Pixar Animation Studios has an excellent back catalogue that Turning Red can proudly sit among. It is the feature film debut of animation filmmaker Domee Shi whose 2018 short film Bao, which screened in cinemas before Incredibles 2, won over audiences and an Academy Award. Similar to Bao, Shi draws upon her background growing up Chinese Canadian in Toronto and while the animation style is not a complete departure from the recognisable Pixar 3D animation aesthetic, there are still distinctive stylistic devices that come from Japanese animation, which has influenced a lot of animation from Asian countries, and is a major factor in making Turning Red feel both innovative and familiar.