A fair bit to unpack here.
I am still severely upset that this did not get a theatrical release, however I needed to get Disney+ for reasons that will remain hidden for a little while. So how actually was the film? Very good, I appreciated so much in it and how it told the story. I think this is the first Pixar maybe even Disney film set in Canada, Toronto to be precise as we meet Mei a 13 year old girl that finds out her ancestors gained a mystical ability to transform into red pandas, and it's a bit of a ticking clock before she stays a red panda forever while juggling life, friends, and her family. The first thing I need to get out of the way is dang near every brief headlining review of this movie hammers the point of, oh Pixar is tackling a metaphor about women's menstrual cycles, and I have never ever felt the mainstream critic press has missed the point so fundamentally entirely more if they tried. Granted they talk about it, it's more for the purposes of comedy than a real...not necessarily a dilemma but a hurdle to say the least that women go through, and even then it's only in the first maybe quarter of the film. No. This is a film digging it's heels so throroughly into the concept of self-identity, it's a true coming of age story told by the use of mysticism and giant red pandas. Mei transforms through extreme emotional responses and that is a monumental problem when you're a teenager, changes start happening both physically and mentally and she starts finding her own place specifically within her own family. She has a very overbearing mother, she does strive to reach perfection, and the changes that occur force her to make a stand. I mean at the end of the day, your mom and your dad are always gonna be your parents and you are always gonna be their child, but as you grow up that playing field shifts so much and it starts when the puberty hits. This is a film that shows a finding of one's identity, that conflicts with your parents are not always a bad thing and sometimes a necessary thing that has to happen, and all of it is told relatively straightforward. Sure near the end it becomes a "I'll never be like you!" climax, but it doesn't pull any punches and I feel can be a genuinely thoughtful and relatable film for young people growing up. The animation is stylized, it even kinda dips it's foots in the anime vibes closer to the end, but the designs and colors and movement are spot on. Mei is an adorkable sweetie and her friends are awesome to the absolute point where I'm not sure I could honestly pick a favorite. Abby is my first go to pick, short, mental, overdramatic, gosh dang precious, 10/10. However, Priya with her deadpan delivery and heavily Raven inspired personality I feel might be the most underrated of the group. And Miriam is just friends to the end material, confiding in Mei and reassuring her that she's doing okay and is alright, that's some god tier level friendship there. I feel the time period was a bit arbitrary, it takes place in 2002 but nothing really screams 2002 except the Tomagotchi and the friggin' boy band which albeit got a pretty hard laugh out of me seeing girls just lose their shit over these pretty boy singers, I was there in the times of N*Sync and the Backstreet Boys man, and arguably not much has changed with the K-Pop groups out there. Oh and I really really dig the chinese cultural bits we see with the food, the temple, the straight up friggin' Mulan inspired flashback, and the unbelievably f***ing beautiful bamboo forest where Mei meets her ancestor who first gained the power of the panda. That is some great stuff, and any excuse to put James Hong in a movie will get nothing but love from me. The comedy while not constant, when it hit it hit hard and I was having a damn good laugh, it shows very good examples of comedic editing so well done on that. I wouldn't say it's one of Pixar's strongest films but a cute, fun, well told story that has a meaning and a message without screwing it royally is hard not to enjoy. 4 stars, 8/10, I leave the decision however of how you see it up to you but just have some fun watching it.