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Linda Cook review: ‘Turning Red’ is panda-monium with humor and heart

Pixar’s latest made me see red…in a wonderful way.

“Turning Red” is about Meilin Lee (voiced by Rosalie Chiang), a 13-year-old girl who wakes up one morning to find her body has betrayed her: she’s turned into a giant red panda and the rest is , well, panda-monium.

Of course, it’s a metaphor for the changes everyone – especially girls – go through in puberty. It goes back to the facts a few times with its mention of the changes girls go through, and it’s the first Disney animated show to do so.

It is honest, courageous and revolutionary. Oh, and it’s quite often hilarious, because Meilin doesn’t want to be a red panda. She just wants to be a girl who draws pictures of cute boys and dreams of going to a concert of her favorite boy band.

Meilin’s protective mother (Sandra Oh) explains to her daughter that the transformation is part of what has happened to women in her family for generations: When their emotions run high, the panda comes out. She tells Meilin about a magical ritual that will imprison the panda’s spirit in an amulet.

But once a few more people know about Meilin’s inner beast, it becomes incredibly popular: everyone wants to take a selfie next to the adorable giant creature.

Meanwhile, Meilin wants to focus on the upcoming gig (the band’s engaging songs were written by Billie Eilish and Finneas O’Connell.) She doesn’t listen when she’s warned to do the panda transformation too often.

Some of these elements may sound familiar to long-time Pixar fans (like me). That’s because director and co-writer Domee Shi directed the Oscar-winning short film “Bao.” She and her co-writer Julia Cho applied memories from their own childhoods to create the characters and situations in the film’s Toronto setting.

The animation is beautiful. The story is smart (stick around for a comically endearing end credits scene) and there’s plenty of action.

“Turning Red” is one of Pixar’s best.

4 stars

Duration: 1h40.

Rated: PG for mature themes.

Broadcast on Disney+.

Watch the trailer here.