In Brian De Palma’s horror film Carrie, a bullied teenager who has just has her first period develops uncontrollable telekinetic powers. Domme Shi’s Turning Red extends the metaphor of puberty in inventive ways. The Pixar animated film uses the coming-of-age device to tackle the pressure of coping with hormonal changes, a newly discovered interest in boys, overbearing families and immigrant identity.

The Disney+ Hotstar release is set in Toronto in Canada. Meilin (Rosalie Chinag) is the over-achieving daughter of parents of Chinese origin. Meilin is the perfect child to her mother Ming (Sandra Oh) and father Jin (Orion Lee) at home and your average boy band-loving adolescent at school. When the band 4*Town schedules a concert in Toronto, Meilin and her friends Miriam (Ava Morse), Priya (Maitreyi Ramakrishnan) and Abby (Hyein Park) are all set to scream their lungs out in adoration.

There’s a small problem. The tickets are expensive. There’s a bigger problem. Meilin, in keeping with a family curse, has begun transforming into a red panda whenever she gets agitated – which, given her overwrought emotional state and racing hormones, is nearly always.

A ritual will release Meilin’s panda spirit and restore her to her human state. But does she want to be free of her inner furball?

Turning Red (2022). Courtesy Pixar Animation Studios.

The film has all the elements of the average Pixar production – ratatat dialogue, skilfully animated human characters, brightly coloured backdrops, huge servings of humour with a dash of poignancy. Domme Shi, who has cowritten the screenplay with Julia Cho, throws in the off-kilter quality that marked her first award-winning short film Bao.

Turning Red goes further than other Pixar productions in exploring the sexual feelings of teenagers. As they crush on their schoolmates and fantasise about the boy-band members, Meilin and her posse are unlike most Pixar characters and very much like adolescents we might know in real life.

The high-octane narrative, which is delivered at high volume, acquires a manic edge ever so often. Meilin’s efforts to be her own person bring her into conflict with her mother, whose moralising and controlling ways crimp Meilin’s advancement.

Packed with vividness and vitality, the 99-minute film sometimes feels a sugar rush. Domme Shi coats the sweet with the savoury, upending several stereotypes along the way and rendering the conventional ending palatable.

By the end of Meilin’s adventure, we are plonked right back at the gift shop that so many Pixar films seem to lead to. Shi makes the journey from creative idea to saleable product weird and often wonderful.

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Turning Red (2022).