Another of its surprises is that when Meilin does transmogrify into a huge, furry animal with claws and a tail, her parents aren’t too bothered. Her mother (voiced by Sandra Oh) explains that the women in her family have had the same blessing / curse for generations: whenever their emotions get the better of them, they change into humongous red pandas in a puff of pink smoke, and whenever they calm down they change back again. The good news is that all Meilin has to do is to wait until the next “blood moon” in a month’s time, and they can perform a magical ritual which will lock her panda identity away in an amulet where it belongs.
Again, it’s easy to assume that you know what’s coming: at this point, the film promises to be about Meilin’s struggle to control the beast within her, and to keep her strange ability hidden from her schoolmates. But again, Turning Red does things its own, more positive way. Meilin is soon in control of the transformations, and her favourite party trick is to show off her supernaturally strong, adorably fluffy alter ego. Even the annoying boy in her class is impressed. All she has to worry about is whether her parents will let her go to a concert featuring a five-piece boy band called 4*Town (whose horribly catchy songs are written by Billie Eilish and Finneas O’Connell).
Turning Red is part of a wave of animations inspired by Chinese culture and mythology, along with Abominable, Over the Moon and Wish Dragon, but it feels less calculating and contrived than all of them. Similarly, it isn’t as overwrought as some of Pixar’s other recent films. Watching Inside Out and Soul, you can picture the committee of writers sweating over the complicated concepts and intricate plots. Turning Red is different. Although it’s jammed with twists and ideas, it’s more like those early Pixar films – Toy Story, Monsters Inc – that appear to flow along effortlessly, however much effort went into them behind the scenes. Whether it’s joking about hormonal teenage lust, family ties, the power of friendship or ancient Chinese gods, Shi’s buoyant coming-of-age comedy always seems to be coming straight from the heart.
What a shame, then, that it has gone straight to streaming on Disney+, rather than getting a cinema release. And what a shame that it didn’t come out in time to be nominated for best animated feature at this year’s Oscars. Turning Red deserves to win that award, and plenty more besides.
Turning Red is on Disney+ from 11 March.
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