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Critics say Disney+'s coming of age tale 'Turning Red' is one of Pixar's best films in years

Turning Red will forego a traditional theatrical release for a streaming debut on Disney+ Friday, March 11.

By Josh Weiss
Turning Red PRESS

It sounds like Pixar has once again hit animation pay-dirt with Turning Red, a coming-of-age story about a boy band-obsessed girl named Mei Lee (voiced by Rosalie Chiang ) who suddenly transforms into a giant red panda whenever her emotions get the better of her.

Serving as a family-friendly metaphor for the flowing hormones and abrupt bodily changes that come with the onset of puberty, the film was directed by Domee Shi (known for helming the Oscar-winning "Bao" short that played with Incredibles 2), the first female filmmaker to fully and solely direct a feature-length movie for the Disney-owned studio.

Critics are falling head-over-heels for Turning Red, calling it a sweet and non-patronizing ode to both Chinese culture and the universal human experience of growing up. The movie will become the third Pixar release since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic to forego a traditional theatrical bow for an exclusive streaming rollout on Disney+ this coming Friday (March 11). This pivot, which was also used for Soul and Luca, was described as "a shame" by the BBC's Nicholas Barber, who felt that this one truly deserves the big screen treatment.

As of this writing, Turning Red holds an incredibly fresh 93 percent score on Rotten Tomatoes. Incredibles 2 holds the same rating, with both films falling squarely between Finding Dory (94 percent) and A Bug's Life (92 percent) on the Pixar scale.

Sandra Oh, Orion Lee, Wai Ching Ho, Ava Morse, Maitreyi Ramakrishnan, Hyein Park, Tristan Allerick Chen, Addie Chandler, James Hong, Lori Tan Chinn, Lillian Lim, Mia Tagano, Sherry Cola, Sasha Roiz, and Lily Sanfelippo co-star. The Grammy-winning duo of Billie Eilish and FINNEAS wrote three original songs, which are performed by the movie's fictional boy band, 4*Town.

Head below to see what critics are saying...

"A story of magical transformation as a metaphor for personal and cultural change, Turning Red ... is Pixar’s funniest and most imaginative film in years. It captures the wild energy of adolescence, uses pop stars as a timeless window into puberty, and tells a tale of friendship and family in the most delightfully kid-friendly way." -Siddhant Adlakha, IGN

"Director Domee Shi, who brought a dumpling to life in her Oscar-winning short, Bao, graduates to features with flying colors — literally — in this charmer from Pixar ... Turning Red is original, funny and tender, an affectionate reminder that adolescence is a time of life not easily tamed, and sometimes the animal inside us demands release." -David Rooney, The Hollywood Reporter

"Irresistibly cute and thoroughly unashamed of its own silliness, “Turning Red” may be second-tier Pixar, but the emotions run every bit as deep as in the studio’s best ... Between this film and Bao, Shi has a gift for hatching allegories that translate well to animation. By unleashing her inner panda, she’s given girls everywhere inspiration to do the same." -Peter Debruge, Variety

"Pixar’s at its finest finding a different angle to tackle the personal, and the best parts of Turning Red are reminiscent of how Inside Out also explored growing up — with heart, humor and the occasional gag. The story will likely mean a lot to young girls dealing with changing bodies and new hormones, and the moms and dads helping them through it. And for everyone else, the film reminds us to wholly embrace that 'messy loud weird' inner beast that makes you, you." -Brian Truitt, USA Today

"Shi, who won an Oscar in 2019 for her animated short Bao, is actually the first woman to helm a Pixar feature, which may be why its portrayal of girlhood on the verge feels as true as it does, even as a cartoon; she captures the tsunami of heightened feelings that makes everything matter so much in adolescence, without judging or making fun ... Red is so breezily charming that hardly matters. In the tricky world of tween-dom, it captures something sweetly universal: Growing up is messy, no matter how you bear it." -Leah Greenblatt, Entertainment Weekly

"Though it would be more than fair to count Turning Red among the growing number of children’s movies like Encanto broaching the concept of generational trauma, it feels distinct in that the trauma at hand isn’t exactly the point of the movie. It’s just one element of Meilin’s magically complicated life. It’s a life that, among other things, involves her emotions becoming so powerful that they give rise to a new physical form, an idea that becomes increasingly relatable the more you let the movie and its unfortunately addictive soundtrack wash over you." -Charles Pulliam-Moore, The Verge

"As with Bao, Shi never compromises the specificities to pander to more general viewers. Though Mei proclaims at the beginning of the film that she’s full of confidence, she spends most of its runtime growing into actually feeling that sense of self. By the end of the movie, though, she’s fully embraced her individuality, and found ways to let it live alongside the other parts of her life. In that way, Turning Red feels like the result of her growth, a movie that unabashedly and jovially embraces its own identity in such a tender way that it aches." -Petrana Radulovic, Polygon

"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." -Nicholas Barber, BBC

Turning Red arrives on Disney+ this Friday — March 11.