First, let’s address the giant red panda in the room.
Yes, as you have no doubt read on the suddenly scandalized internet, Disney/Pixar’s animated coming-of-age comedy “Turning Red” — about a 13-year-old girl named Mei who poofs into a huge, fluffy red panda whenever she gets emotionally overwhelmed — does, indeed, include a scene in which Mei experiences her first menstrual period.
It’s called a metaphor, kids. Get over it.
And, also: Grow up.
But it’s important to note that, contrary to what you may have heard, “Turning Red” isn’t “about” a girl getting her first period any more than “Steamboat Willie” is “about” a mouse that wears pants.
Yes, “Steamboat Willie” does, indeed, include a mouse wearing pants, but if you focus myopically on that single element, you’ll miss the overall point — which, in the case of that history-making 1928 Mickey Mouse classic, was all about the thrill of having sound and picture synced on-film for the first time in cartoon history.
Similarly, if you’re sent to your fainting couch by the fact that “Turning Red” tackles such a taboo topic as menstruation — that is “taboo” as defined by the old White men who have historically run Hollywood — you’re missing out on the bigger picture.
In this case, you’ll be missing out on a bright, fantastical comic romp that deftly blends heart, humor and artistry to deliver a universally relevant message about remaining true to yourself — even amid the sometimes-overwhelming craziness of puberty.
To be honest, more than anything I was taken back by Mei’s go-to utterance of frustration — “Oh, crap!” — which feels jarringly un-Disney-like to me. (Where’s that fainting couch when I need it?)
The whole thing focuses on the adorably precocious Mei Lee, “a very enterprising, mildly annoying young lady” — as one of her teachers describes her in perfect deadpan — growing up in a Chinese-Canadian family in early-2000s Toronto.
“The No. 1 thing in my family: Honor. Your. Parents,” the 13-year-old Mei (voiced by Rosalie Chiang) tells the audience at the film’s outset. “But if you take it too far, you might forget to honor yourself.”
That “Ferris Bueller”-flavored intro sets up the central conflict in “Turning Red,” which sees Mei — a well-meaning mischief magnet — desperate to realize a simple dream: to be there in person with her friends and partners in dorkitude when their favorite boy band visits Toronto for a concert.
For the record, that five-person boy band’s name is, amusingly, 4*Town.
Also for the record, among the real-life artists in it is Grammy winner Finneas O’Connell, who penned three songs for the film with sister Billie Eilish.
The problem for Mei is that the upcoming 4*Town show just so happens to coincide with the emergence in her of that aforementioned condition — maybe genetic, maybe not; just sayin’ — in which she becomes a huge, fluffy red panda whenever she gets worked up.
(“It’s kind of like ‘The Incredible Hulk,’ but cuter,” director Domee Shi said in describing the concept.)
Mei’s horrified parents — who may or may not be harboring secrets of their own; again, just sayin’ — are determined to keep her locked up until the timing is right for them to perform a sort of ancient exorcism ritual.
In short: no concert, dreams be darned.
Naturally, Mei and her friends motto a plan to get her to the show anyway — which, of course, leads to unbridled chaos, culminating in the big, numbing third-act actionfest that all animated features seem obligated to include nowadays.
What truly sets “Turning Red” apart, though, is its perspective. First, it is set in Canada. Also, it focuses on a Chinese-Canadian family. And, perhaps most importantly, it is directed by a woman — marking the first time a woman was given sole control over a feature-length Pixar film.
(It’s Shi’s second time making Pixar history. Three years ago, with “Bao,” she became the first woman to direct a Pixar short. It earned her an Oscar.)
So, while we’ve seen innumerable coming-of-age comedies before, none have quite captured this point of view — which is, after all, among the most valuable thing about movies to begin with.
Granted, as Pixar films go, “Turning Red” lacks the tear-jerking profundity or the visual inventiveness of, say, “Up,” “Wall-E,” “Inside Out” or one of the studio’s other emotional masterpieces.
That being said, it does everything well enough to become a memorable, energetic and enjoyable bit of storytelling.