What constitutes the new era of ideas for Pixar programming? Is it the same tirade Disney goes on, adapting cultures of significance to the big-screen under the guise of representation to really placate another broad stroke of the same story using culture as caricature? Or is it the need to showcase new ideas, new representations of children who need to unify their identity with a big-screen feature that normalises what they may be uncomfortable with? Both are indefinite articles of interest in Turning Red, the latest Pixar feature to run the gauntlet, try its luck and ultimately crash out with well-intended commentaries suffering under the usual run of cookie-cutter stylings.
That willing gentrification of the animation genre has paved the road to similar features. Make no mistake, Turning Red has intricate moments of emotional quandary that will connect well with those that need it. So too will the classics Pixar produced, the variety on display in the post-Toy Story 3 schedule has been nothing short of dismal, but a few gems are found within. Turning Red is at the very most at least worth a watch. It has its fair share of enchanting moments and a core to it that is difficult to hate, but also hard to appreciate. Director Domee Shi expands on the charms of her animated short Bao and fleshes out the puberty metaphor found not so subtly throughout.
Useless as they are, pandas make for the core of Turning Red when protagonist Meilin Lee (Rosalie Chiang) finds herself turning into one. Through some not-so-subtle introductory narration, Lee is presented as the golden child who honours her family and forgets to honour herself. Her words. Pixar is usually up to scratch on blanketing information, feeding it to an audience without knowing they are accepting life advice and pointers of their general direction. Turning Red doesn’t have that. It is clear cut and straightforward, direct to an audience that is likely quite young. Even then, it is probably to distract from the animation, which is very active and edited well but once more feels dependent on the stereotypes Turning Red is trying to turn away from. Animated forms can take audiences to new layers of gifted entertainment, but all Turning Red does is whack up the contrast, break the fourth wall and deliver very little in the way of emotive friendship.
For the point of diversity and representation to be effective and important, it must be used in a way that does not feel similar to all the work Disney has been putting out alongside these Pixar pieces. Turning Red does little to distance itself from the actions or active message of Luca, Encanto or Raya and the Last Dragon. Despite the changes in culture and representation, the message is much the same. An innocence still remains for Turning Red, but it feels like a butchered slab sent through another culture without little change made to finely tune a message that can hold some unique sentiment to it. Be yourself, be creative and bold. That is the usual run-around of the modern Pixar feature, and while that is an important message to teach to children and audiences globally, it can surely be done with more variety than this.