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One of the great philosophers of our time once said “ Every time I thought I’d got it made, It seemed the taste was not so sweet. So I turned myself to face me, but I’ve never caught a glimpse. Of how the others must see the faker; I’m much too fast to take that test”. Ch-ch-ch-changes and personal growth is a merry fact of life. Who among us can say that they have not had to confront changes in their life or maybe even more drastically within themselves.
One change I’ve noticed recently is the shift in focus by Pixar. Embracing more unique perspectives, and art styles, Pixar’s portfolio has become more diverse. Has it sacrificed the charm of the studios conventions or are the naysayers just abrasively rejecting the welcomed change of pace.
After watching Turning Red, admittedly I found it to be a mixed bag overall. The best way to demonstrate its strengths and weaknesses is to contrast it with another film about an animal transformation. Hopefully, by the end of this you’ll pick the right MOO-vie for you.
Turning Red: A Lack of Pandamonium
The discourse on this movie has been kind of a disaster and I don’t know how much I want to even entertain it. I don’t know anything about the initial critic in question; but the comments on the film “ONLY” appealing to a niche personal audience is rather dismissive of the larger themes and broad messages the film certainly has but there is an ounce of niche-ness that I understand where the comment is coming from. Maybe it was just me, but I found this film to be specific but not so detailed. Mei Lee is a quirky girl caricature that I think a lot of people could relate to and see themselves in the boy band crazy, cuteness overloaded, free spirit that’s all about the hustle. Something about it just rings hollow to me that she never progresses beyond that initial caricature. I enjoy a good character study, I just don’t know if any of her emotions, interests or defining traits go beyond an initial bullet point list.
Turning Red for better or worse comes across as maybe being kind of “by committee” for lack of a better word. It is a movie that has appeal and with pixar level animation how could it go wrong. It kind of feels like there was a planning phase of just “every movie needs this’ ‘ and then they did it. At some points it just feels like it’s going through the motions and is kind of following the template rather than finding itself and what story it wants to tell. Which is a shame because some of the brightest moments in the film are scenes that ignore the generic plot conventions and just shows the characters being there for one another in sincere and believable ways. Just some of the raw likeability of these characters finding themselves and genuinely caring for the others’ best interest is slightly undermined by the add-on moments. It’s fine that a film is open about femine hygiene products but there’s just other instances of Asian cultural tidbits, and a weird reference to a pro-abortion slogan that it becomes distracting. Sometimes the film really comes across as the filmmaker and not the characters that are supposed to embody them. Turning Red is fine, harmless, inoffensive if not unfortunately underwhelming. BUT… I will tell you what it is not.
What the Heck is Satellite Girl and Milk Cow?
Maybe the weakest point I have on Turning Red is that it both is too straight of a metaphor for menstruation but it also is too vague to also play as both accept your uniqueness. Now I’m changing pace to demonstrate that…. Turning Red at least isn’t a mess.
“This would honestly be one of my favorite movies ever if the people making it actually knew what they were doing” – James (Schaffrillas) on Letterboxd
I often agree with Moana crab man and this time is no different. Milk Cow had the chance to be something truly spectacular to behold. Maybe it’s just because Kirk Thornton (the voice of Don Patch) plays a prominent role but imagine a Shinkai film with the absurdity of Bo-bo-bo. It’s simple, he was a boy that turned into a cow. She was a defunct orbiting satellite that became a robot girl. Can I make it more obvious?
The opening ten minutes of this film is unfiltered insanity and I vibe with it. Why does the wizard Merlin appear in a tree as a role of toilet paper, why does a kid turn into a cow, and why is there a shady looking guy who takes a plunger to steal the animal peoples’ livers? Because…why not? Unfortunately, the film just doesn’t keep this momentum rolling and kind of falters into a more conventional romance tale. In some ways I could argue the flick is displaying shades of Shrek being able to make a satirical take on the premise as a whole and then having goofs and gaffs at the tropes and stereotypes that exist in the “genre formula”. What separates Milk Cow and Shrek is…one is actually good.
Turning Red comes across as a neat streamline of scene to scene and probably could have used more let the characters interact scenes. Milk Cow is the exact opposite of being an assortment of scenes that act more as excuses for gags or wacky animation. The red panda had a clear signifying meaning and was elaborated through context and in universe lore. Why is he a Milk Cow? I don’t know if he got depressed and became partially heart broken. I guess cows are lethargic and…they just wanted that weird scene where he gets milked didn’t they? At the end of the day, where Turning Red maybe strived best was emotional clarity, Mei Lee’s are well defined, portrayed and complicated. I felt no chemistry between the cow and robot and it felt only for the sake of the plot. At the end of the day, Milk Cow is a rare instance where I would say the real MVP was the English dub with additional voices cast. There’s a lot of subtle ribbing if you listen carefully to the background and they are very aware of what this movie is or at least should be.
Who knew when I first forced these films to be compared to one another for the shallowest of reasons ended up being two sides of the same coin. Turning Red is competent but lacks taking many risks and chances in a substantial effort to distinguish itself. Flip it over and you have Satellite Girl and Milk Cow. It’s zany and stands out like a sore thumb but there’s nothing fundamentally sound or praiseworthy. That’s why I’m crazy and despite Turning Red being a safe 6/10 and Milk Cow being a 4/10 I honestly recommend you check out the latter. I’m sorry it’s just so dumb, but at least its an experience you can’t get from anything else and it takes enough chances to be a fascinating piece on how to do things wrong and weird.
Regardless, I hope you take some time off and relax with a good and enjoyable movie. Hey, I mean who knows where we all are in the world. Maybe go out and maybe I’ll see you at a movie or something like that?