Turning Red (PG, 100 minutes)
Disney is having a pretty good year, as far as their feature animations go. Not only do they have Encanto and Raya and the Last Dragon up for Oscars, but they are setting themselves up for next year's awards with this latest animation, Turning Red.
The film is as much a charming high-jinx comedy about a girl who turns into a red panda as the latest recipient of her family's generations-long curse, as it as an allegory for a girl's transition into womanhood.
For parents who have been themselves raised on Disney and Pixar films, this film is the perfect family discussion-opener, particularly for the parents of girls on the verge of teenagedom.
And not only is it a charming animation with a clever subtext, Disney is also giving a showcase to the music of one its other big coups of the last year - Billie Eilish and her brother Finneas.
Newly adolescent Meilin (Rosalie Chiang) is loving middle school, and adores hanging out with her posse of best friends Miriam (Ava Morse), Abby (Hyein Park) and Priya (Maitreyi Ramakrishnan).
But it's not just a famous boy band that has the girls' pre-pubescent hormones absolutely raging.
The four girls are probably the world's biggest fans of boy band 4*Town (Finneas provides one of the voices for this N'Synch-like boy band) and they're beyond excited that the band are touring to their home-town of Toronto.
But it's not just a famous boy band that has the girls' pre-pubescent hormones absolutely raging. Real-life boys from their school and neighbourhood are very much the targets of the girls' obsessions and discussions.
Hormones aside, Meilin is a good Chinese-Canadian girl, respectful to her parents (Sandra Oh as mother Ming and Orion Lee as dad Jin) and always helping after school at the family's inner-city temple.
But in Meilin's family, with her adolescence also comes the family curse kept secret from her until she discovers for herself that the women in their family turn into giant red pandas when overly excited.
When her mother discovers Meilin has commenced her time, she lets Meilin know that there is a cure - a family sorcerer can contain the giant panda into a pendant and Meilin can live a quiet normal life - as her mother has done.
The film is written by Julia Cho and Domee Shi and Shi also directs the film. The woman have a lot to say here about the shame inflicted on girls who begin their period and the restraining and controlling
The film is set in the year 2002, which initially seems to exist to allow a series of gags on the world's obsession at the time with boy bands, and to allow Eilish and her brother to parody their music. This era, however, allows the filmmakers to focus on their own life issues and not on things like a global pandemic, woke cancel culture or modern technology.
It is also, cleverly, a way to capture the attention of the film's intended audience and smash its message directly into their brains, and that is the parents, not the children.
The message - your child isn't a monster and this little girl you've raised doesn't need to have her light extinguished because she is becoming a woman. That's a lot for an apparent kid's film.
The voice work is fun, Sandra Oh particularly as Meilin's mother Ming. The children of the film tend to scream their dialogue, but that's pretty consistent with plenty of pre-teen conversations, delivered at high volume and full surprise.
The animation is a grab-bag of styles that work together well, from Pixar's crisp high-definition in-house style to elements from Japanese manga and Saturday morning cartoon visual, and the cultural Chinese elements from the family's temple locations and the panda itself.
Disney/Pixar are taking a big leap with this film - they've mined the Grimm fairy tales and harvested their own back catalogue - but they're hopefully finding that investing in filmmakers and their own personal experiences pays equal dividends.
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