Pixar now part of the Disney Empire have arguably stumbled since their previous home run of hits, both commercially and critically.
Does this film add to the positive or negative ledger, well fair to say this is a definite return to form.
“Meilin” (Rosalie Chiang) is the Chinese Canadian thirteen year old daughter of a “Tiger Mom”. Meilin attends school and earns straight A’s, loves Math and excels at after school activities. When not being a model pupil, she also fits in being the perfect daughter by helping her mother at the family’s temple, also run as a tourist attraction.
Meilin has solid support at school from her besties “Miriam” (Ava Morse), “Priya” (Maitreyi Ramakrishnan) and “Abby” (Hyein Park), with their group obsession with “4town” a 90’s style boy band. Arguably Meilin just likes the music, whereas her friends have a more basic interest in the group.
However, one day scribbling in her notebook she starts drawing pictures of the local handsome clerk at the convenience store. Confused already but compounded by her mothers extreme reaction for non existent transgressions, this causes Meilin huge embarrassment.
One night Meilin has a dream/nightmare where she turns into a giant red fluffy Panda, only when she awakes and realising this was no dream, attempts to hide. Her mother “Ming” ( Sandra Oh) and father “Jin” ( Orion Lee ) believe this could be the start of womanhood. However, a deeper secret is revealed, which will ultimately require Meilin to make a choice, to keep this side of her character or expel her “Panda” alter ego forever.
As can be expected from Pixar the level of animation is first rate and dialogue and characters are both believable and seem age appropriate. The sense of close friendship at this age being as strong, if not more important than family, a key message from the film.
The film touches on delicate subjects treating them with compassion, expanding to a message of being true to oneself, whilst stepping away from a parents shadow, however well meaning.
The boy band music is amusingly and accurately provided by artist du jour Billie Eilish and her brother Finneas O’Connell, creating original songs instantly recognisable for the era. Toronto is also accurately detailed although fans will be unhappy about what happens to their much loved “SkyDome/Rogers” stadium.
The story flags a little in the mid section and as with all CGI films, resorting to a spectacle for the denouement but the films heart remains in the right place.
Directed by Domee Shi who acknowledges the film reflects her own growing up experiences, presumably minus an actual red panda. It’s great to see the film enjoying critical success with a largely female led cast and director, something hopefully not worthy of mentioning soon.
Great fun for older ankle biters, albeit resonating more for those of the female persuasion but containing enough message, humour and heart for adults to be interested in what the kids are watching.
*Streaming on Disney +