TUCSON, Ariz. — "Turning Red" takes an intriguing premise and wears it out within its first half-hour.
Rosalie Chiang is the voice of Mei Lee, a self-conscious 13-year-old who discovers she can transform into a giant red panda.
At first, a source of embarrassment, Mei beings to lean into her animal alter ego and exploit the form for popularity and fortune.
Part of a Chinese community in Toronto, Mei straddles the lines between Eastern and Western culture, as well as the old ways and modern technology.
The setup has all sorts of metaphorical potential — especially related to adolescence and cultural heritage — but the film ignores any heavy stuff in favor of cheap laughs and dull subplots that don't go anywhere.
The voice cast is as strong as the art direction. Chiang shows off vulnerability and arresting enthusiasm in the lead role.
Sandra Oh plays Ming, Mei's gruff, demanding mother, Wai Ching Ho voices her more measured and understanding grandmother, and Ava Morse and Hyien Park round out the main cast as Mei's friends, Miriam and Abby.
Director Domee Shi, who helmed the best animated short Oscar-winning Pixar film "Bao," flexes her visual creativity but struggles to keep her story lively for the 100-minute run time.
Like "Bao," "Turning Red" would have had more impact and urgency if it were a short film.
Following 2021's lackluster "Luca," "Turning Red" is another slow-moving direct-to-Disney+ effort. While you can't beat the price, which is free, in a sense if you don't subscribe to the service just to watch this movie. You can't beat the family value bang for the buck that movies like this offer.
But over the decades, Pixar films have come to represent a higher standard, and "Turning Red" can't come close to matching the majesty of the top-flight Pixar franchises or the emotional sensitivity of one-of films such as "Up" and "Inside Out."
"Turning Red" feels like a B-team Pixar effort that will be quickly relegated to the bottom of your app queue.
RATING: 2 stars out of 4.
This story was first reported by Phil Villarreal at KGUN in Tucson, Arizona.