Disney and Pixar’s Turning Red introduces Mei Lee, a confident, dorky 13-year-old torn between staying her mother’s dutiful daughter and the chaos of adolescence. Her protective, if not slightly overbearing mother, Ming, is never far from her daughter — an unfortunate reality for the teenager. And as if changes to her interests, relationships and body weren’t enough, whenever she gets too excited, she “poofs” into a giant red panda!
It’s 2002, and Mei Lin Lee is totally rocking at Grade 8. At home, she’s the dutiful daughter of her mother’s dreams, and with her friends, she can squee over boys and let her 4☆Town-loving flag fly. But these different sides of herself are increasingly at odds with each other as Mei is becoming her own person — and also, um, a giant red panda?!? (It’s a family trait.)
Rosalie Chiang as Mei Lin
Confidently dorky is a perfect description of Mei. She might start off being comfortable in her own skin, but that all changes once she becomes more hairy and smelly. (The puberty metaphor is not at all subtle, and I LOVE IT.)
In the grand tradition of Pixar getting great performances from young actors, Rosalie Chiang was only 12 years old when she was hired as a temporary placeholder for the role, and she was so good that she got the job for real!
Sandra Oh as Ming
Mei’s mom takes helicopter parenting TO THE EXTREME. Her heart is in the right place, but she tends to express her love in an overbearing and overstepping way. She does truly want the best for Mei; it’s just that she and Mei are starting to have different ideas of what that is. (Ming’s likeability is also immensely helped by the fact that she’s voiced by OTTAWAN GODDESS SANDRA OH.)
Mei’s besties are never not by her side, her side, her side. There’s Abby, who only operates at AGGRESSIVE INTENSITY; Priya (aka Devi Vishwakumar!), who’s practically the polar opposite with her monotone demeanour; and Miriam, who encourages Mei to embrace her true self as well as her horniness lol.
Wai Ching Ho as Grandma
Grandma’s voice sounded like someone I DEFINITELY should have known, which is accurate, as Wai Ching Ho played Madame Gao in the Netflix-era Marvel shows, Big Auntie in Fresh Off the Boat, Destiny’s grandmother in Hustlers, and Li-Wei in Awkwafina Is Nora from Queens. (To keep things vague, Grandma’s arrival is EVERYTHING.)
James Hong as Mr. Gao
JAMES MOTHERCUSSING HONG, Y’ALL. THIS LEGEND IS 93 YEARS OLD AND STILL CRUSHING IT. Among his mind-boggling 450 acting credits, there’s bound to be something you recognize him from.
The greatest source of swoon in any adolescent life: THE BOY BAND.* As a lifelong connoisseur of the craft, 4☆Town is simply… *chef’s kiss*. (AS ARE THE MEMBER BIOS OMG.)
I was only familiar with a couple of the voice actors beforehand. Jordan Fisher is, of course, the incomparable John Ambrose McClaren, while Finneas O’Connell pulled double duty with his sister Billie Eilish as songwriters of 4☆Town’s ABSOLUTE BOPS.
* I love how the actual IRL boys barely register in the movie, as they usually do at that age in retrospect. I’m also choosing to believe that Devon is named after That Devon.
Sasha Roiz as Mr. Kieslowski
Just as a hilarious addendum while scanning the voice credits, the captain from Grimm is the math teacher!
Couch-Sharing Capability: Had Friends and I’ve Had Buddies, It’s True
It’s kind of weird that my instinct, or maybe learned behaviour, is to put a disclaimer on my praise — like, this movie seems so tailor-made for me that OF COURSE I would love it, and that’s somehow not worth as much as an outsider’s seal of approval. But here’s the thing: I’ve been consuming media that wasn’t made for me for my entire life. So yeah, I’m going to savour this moment and be so, so happy for kids who get to grow up seeing themselves in pop culture. (Seriously, is this what it feels like to have good representation ALL THE TIME!??)
If you’re a regular reader of this blog, there’s a high likelihood that you can relate to at least one aspect of Mei’s identity, but that’s not to say it can’t be enjoyed by someone without those similarities. After all, the entire point of storytelling is to empathize with someone else’s experience — and in that regard, Turning Red is for everybody.
Recommended Level of Inebriation: You Wanted It, You Went for It
I watched this after the internet got a head start with its trademark hype, so I was fully prepared for a cringefest… and it wasn’t? Maybe because my own teenage years already set the cringe threshold so high. While alcohol might not be necessary on that front, this movie’s all about living your truth, so FOLLOW YOUR THIRST, while heeding caution for possible snortworthiness. (There are a few near the end that made me guffaw especially loud, but I don’t want to spoil anything, no matter how badly I want to drop a GIF.)
You might also want clarity to catch all the loving nods for anyone who grew up in the ’00s; who was ever not a girl, not yet a woman; or who had a similar upbringing as Mei.*
* My favourite Canadianisms include the off-brand Much Music logo and the sign outside of Lester B. Pearson Middle School for Canadian Indigenous Peoples History Month, even though that’s officially in June and not April (but it should actually be every single month). And I love the movie so much that I can forgive the slight artistic licenses with time, since there are way too may kids with their own cell phones in 2002 and it’s a few years too early for the Twilight knock-off Nightfall.
Use of Your Streaming Subscription: My Heaven Above, My One True Love
I mean, if you can’t tell by now, YES OBVIOUSLY I HIGHLY RECOMMEND TURNING RED. While Disney The Company remains a highly problematic fave,* its creative teams are doing phenomenal work during its (hopefully permanent) Representation Era. They even managed to make Toronto look downright magical! (I kid, I kid.)