Delightful, funny, unapologetically girl-centered, and a surprisingly touching allegory for adolescence, this is Pixar's most teen-friendly film. It's also a gift for anyone who remembers the onset of puberty, pining over musicians (in this case, a shout-out to millennials who crushed on O-Town, *NSYNC, Backstreet Boys, and the like), and struggling to balance meeting parental expectations with friendships and newfound interests. Chiang does a lovely job conveying Mei's emotional and physical changes -- how she genuinely wants to obey her parents, take care of their family temple, and be a good girl but also enjoys her BFFs, loud music, and, yes, boys (even if they are of the unattainable pop-heartthrob variety). And Oh, who's also Canadian, is ideally cast as Mei's mom, who's more complex than the fussy helicopter mom she initially seems to be. Although dad Jin is a kind and loving presence, Turning Red is at heart a story about mothers and daughters. Mei and Ming's dynamic is in some ways universal: the bittersweet and at times outright confrontational push-and-pull of surviving teen rebellion (whatever that looks like).
Visually, Turning Red, like all Pixar movies, is phenomenal. Director Domee Shi (who herself is Chinese Canadian and was 13 in 2002), is clearly drawing on her own lived experiences of Toronto, its Chinatown, and being a teen in the early '00s. The movie, like her short film Bao, is also an emotional reminder of the tender joy and turbulent angst of growing up -- particularly with a demanding but loving mother who has sky-high expectations. But audiences don't need to be Canadian, Chinese, women, girls, or millennials to relate to and enjoy this story, because its themes and central metaphor work for everyone who has or will experience the awkward excitement of transforming from child to teen. Like Inside Out or The Mitchells vs. the Machines, Turning Red is a standout addition to animated movies that capture the overwhelming feelings of coming-of-age.