“Red is a lucky color.”
Genre: “Um, guess what?” Coming Of Age Animated Stories
Release Date: 2022
Where I Watched: Disney+
Gist: It’s 2002 y’all – hooray, we survived Y2K! And thirteen-year-old Meilin “Mei Mei” Lee is an eighth-grader on a mission; to be wholly herself. Y’know, unless she’s with her mom Ming, when she does what she’s told. Now, Mei loves being with her mom, but one night when Ming truly embarasses the [RADIO EDIT] out of Mei In The Public, in front of a group of her classmates? Mei wakes up the next day with a few changes. What’s red and white and freaked out all over? Yeah. Changes.
Talky talk: Hoooo boy did Red hit the memories for me. Lines like “Honoring your parents sounds great, but if you take it too far, well, you might forget to honor yourself”? I could have used that back when I was thirteen. [YOU CAN’T HONOR YOUR PARENTS ENOUGH – Editor’s Nisei parents screaming from their urns] But Red isn’t a Kids vs. Grownups story, though that would have been the easy road to go down. Instead, writer/director Domee Shi – you know, that amazing woman who created 2018’s Oscar winning animated short, Bao – digs deeper, to find the connections a newly minted teen might have with her friends, her family, her heritage, and herself. These connections weave together seamlessly into a narrative that’s fun, touching, and funky.
Yeah, I said funky. Shi nails the teenage Millennial vibe, complete with Tamagotchis and boy band stans. Mei (and her friends Miriam, Abby, and Priya) have a favorite in-universe band, and it’s 4*Town, basically a 21st century K-pop/90s Boy Band band of Pixar awesomeness. That this band sings songs written by Billie Eilish and Finneas O’Connell lets you know that you will indeed be bopping to these tunes. (No shame; I did.) When the girls find out that the band will be coming to Toronto, they freak out, and make plans to go. But with Mei trying to figure out how to balance her life with her brand new panda spirit, things get strange. Yes, I am Captain Obvious. Thank you for noticing.
But Mei’s parents want her to lock her panda spirit away, just like Mei’s mom did, and like so many other female Americanized Chinese relatives did before them. Here, Red could have just been a simple “don’t keep Baby in a corner” story, which would have been fun and sweet. But in Mei, writers Shi, Julia Cho and Sarah Streicher craft a complex character that isn’t sure what she wants, or what the right thing to do really is. Like any other teenager, she hops from choice to choice multiple times, feeling elation, anxiety, excitement, and worry along the way. Her story felt genuine, like something all eighth graders go through…though we did it without the whole red panda thing.
Plus, Red goes where no Disney/Pixar film has gone before; That Time Of The Month. Though Mei doesn’t (seem) to have, to quote Momma Ming, “the red peony blooming” onscreen? That mother and daughter actually discuss the topic of menstruation is a watershed moment for this company. Bravo to Shi for sticking to her guns and keeping these scenes in there, and a pat on the head to Disney for letting animated characters act like real characters in the real world. Though MeiMei is thirteen, and her mother thinks the red peony blooming at that time is too early? Come on! Okay fine; maybe Ming was in denial that her daughter was growing up.
Red delves into all the delightfully awkward, messy, confusing moments young teens go through, allowing these characters to let older viewers hark back to their own time as puberty-addled weirdoes, and revel in it. I’m sure teenaged and tweenaged girls will enjoy this story, even though older teens may pretend to be “better” than this around their friends. And no, it’s not just for girls; the interesting bits of in-universe mythology, a weird-but-loveable family dynamic, dramatically crazy middle-school life that has a whiff of John Hughes realness, and infectious soundtrack will keep any film lover well pleased. Plus, you wanna see a red panda twerking, don’t you. OH YES. YES YOU DO.
One last thing; I want to live at the Lee family temple. It’s absolutely gorgeous. And plus, all the pretty koi fish, and that breathtaking garden! It’s gorgeous, and I definitely have make-believe Temple Envy.
Come for: The usual Pixar goodness
Stay for: A sweet story about family ties centered around a girl who knows her worth.