When you’re a studio with the kind of accolades and resume of classics that Pixar has produced, you’re going to get the benefit of the doubt most of the time, but by any standards, the studio’s upcoming animated feature Turning Red looks like a bit of an odd one. Releasing its first teaser today, Turning Red is the story of Mei, a young teenager trying to survive an intensely overprotective mother, while dealing with a rather awkward quirk of her own: Whenever she gets too excited or emotional, she transforms instantly into a massive red panda. Or as the official synopsis puts it:
In Turning Red, Mei Lee is a confident, dorky thirteen-year-old torn between staying her mother’s dutiful daughter and the chaos of adolescence. And as if changes to her interests, relationships, and body weren’t enough, whenever she gets too excited (which for a teenager is practically ALWAYS), she “poofs” into a giant red panda!
Which is to say, Turning Red feels like it has elements of the likes of Inside Out, Brave and Luca all in its DNA, but the result feels particularly jumbled in this trailer … or maybe that’s just the result of the Backstreet Boys’ “Larger Than Life” being jammed into it so guilelessly. And why is she turning into a red panda the size of a rhinoceros, when actual red pandas are more like the size of a poodle? All questions that will surely be answered down the line.
Regardless, Turning Red will make diversity history for Pixar, being the company’s first film directed by a nonwhite woman, Chinese-born Canadian Domee Shi. Shi has risen through the ranks at Pixar in the last decade as a storyboard artist and then director, working on films such as Inside Out, Incredibles 2 and Toy Story 4 before having her career breakthrough when she directed the endearing short film Bao in 2018. Bao went on to win the Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film, setting Shi down the path to direct her first feature in the form of Turning Red. The film is set in the early 2000s, suggesting that Shi may have based some of its elements on her own childhood. That would explain the Backstreet Boys, at least.
Pixar says the film is intended for theatrical release unlike the recent digital-only platform of Luca. Turning Red is currently scheduled for March 11, 2022. Check out the first teaser below.