Wednesday, March 29, 2023

Disturbia

The 'Burbs
Director: Joe Dante
Cast: Tom Hanks, Carrie Fisher, Bruce Dern, Corey Feldman, Rick Ducommun, Henry Gibson, Wendy Schaal
Released: February 17, 1989


I had seen this movie a couple times before, but I remembered absolutely nothing about it...probably because it's not that good of a movie. (And probably because it's been quite awhile since I last saw it). It's a bit of an odd movie and is now considered a cult classic, which doesn't surprise me. I read that it was the worst reviewed movie of 1989, which also doesn't surprise me. 

I have to wonder if Marc Cherry got inspiration from this movie to create Desperate Housewives because that's what I was reminded of while watching this. (Though DH is much, much better). The cul-de-sac neighborhood in this movie (which I've already forgot the name of) is very similar to Wisteria Lane from DH. Some odd, new people have moved into a house on the lane and all the neighbors are trying to figure out their big secret (pretty much the storyline for every DH season!). Another reason why I was probably reminded of Desperate Housewives is because both were filmed in the same Universal backlot. (Hey, it's a good place to film if your setting is a cul-de-sac!) The houses are different, obviously. 

Let's meet the neighbors and residents of non-Wisteria Lane, shall we? There's Ray and Carol Peterson (Tom Hanks and Carrie Fisher) who are the "normal" people on the block. (Well, at least Carol is. Compared to his friends, Ray is relatively normal). They have a son who doesn't add anything to the plot at all and Ray is taking a week off of work. Carol wants all of them to go to the lake, but Ray doesn't want to go. He wants his vacation to be a staycation. 

Across the street from them is Mark Rumsfield (Bruce Dern), a Vietnam War vet, and his trophy wife, Bonnie (Wendy Schaal) who is clearly quite younger than him. Next door to them lives high schooler Ricky Butler (Corey Feldman) and his parents, but we never meet his parents because they're away during this time, so Ricky is always inviting his girlfriend or friends over to his house. 

Next door to the Petersons, on one side, lives Art Weingartner (Rick Ducommun) and his wife. We never meet the wife, because, she, much like Ricky's parents, is also out of town for the week. This neighbor was particularly annoying. First of all, he has no common decency for any sort of life. When we first meet him, he has a rifle and is trying to shoot a hawk that's been eating bird food that's meant for the smaller birds. He shoots four times (missing each time) and when Ray comes out of his backyard to see what the commotion is, he turns towards him and nearly shoots Ray! If I were Ray, I would be pissed because I have a young kid and a dog (and the dog was in the backyard, quite near where Art was shooting). Then this neighbor is also a schlub and a mooch. He pretty much invites himself over to the Peterson's house and stuffs himself with food. We see he's cleared a plate of pancakes and eggs while he's given another plate. When Carol passes by him with a bowl of something, he takes a few pieces out without her noticing, but then, in the background, we see her set the bowl down. It was dog food, ha! No wonder he made that face when he ate it. Then he helps himself to some ribs that were in the fridge AND asks Carol is he can eat Ray's eggs when Ray goes to do something. I'm honestly surprised they didn't cast someone who was more overweight. Also, for someone who seems to always be hungry and stuffing his face, they don't really keep that up. You'd think he would always be eating in every scene, but he doesn't. Yeah, we might get a couple scenes where he mentions food, but that's about it. Not that I'm complaining because it was really gross seeing him gorge himself with the ribs. 

And then we have the neighbors who live on the other side of the Petersons. They are very odd. They moved in about a month ago and nobody has ever seen them. Nobody ever goes in or out. They don't ever seem to have any visitors or deliveries. They're not even sure how many people live there. All they know is that their surname is Klopek. Art is super suspicious of them, but Ray just assumes they just want to keep to themselves. In one of the only scenes he has, Ray's son tells them there are three of them and they only come out at night and he saw them digging in their backyard one night last week when he was using his telescope. Oh, yeah, that's not suspicious at all! (I mean the Klopeks digging, not the kid using his telescope). 

Oh, there's another neighbor who lives at the end of the cul-de-sac who is important to the story. His name is Walter and he has a little white dog named Queenie. This dog, a Bichon Frise named Darla, was also in The Silence of the Lambs and if you've ever seen that movie, you would definitely recognize her right away. 

While Ray and Art are in Ray's garage and Ray is showing him something, Art walks out to the driveway and sees a young man (probably in his early twenties) with bright red hair, and, look, there's really no nice way to say this, but he has an "inbred" look to him. He would definitely stand out in a crowd. All the neighbors are witnessing this and we get the viewpoint from the redheaded young man. Ray now sees what the others are seeing and murmurs, "It's my neighbor." But isn't he everyone's neighbor? And soon Ray and Art will get into an argument over that when Art suggests to Ray that he should go over and say hi. Ray replies that he could go say hi to him too. Art tells Ray he's his (the redhead's) neighbor, but Ray tells him he's their neighbor as well, but Art is quick to remind him that he (Ray) shares a property line with the Klopeks. Ray points out they're all on the same block which Art agrees is true, but they all also live in the same town and if the Klopeks ever needed to borrow anything, they would go to Ray's place. Yeah, so while this conversation is going on, the young Klopek ends up going back in the house and they missed their opportunity to say hello. (Though I don't think anything would have happened even if they had, most likely he would have just gone back in his house without saying anything). 

Ray and Art notice that everyone has seen them arguing, including Ray's son. Not wanting to look like he's afraid in front of his own son, both men decide to go up and knock on the door. We get a close up shot of all the neighbor's faces as they watch Ray and Art walk up to the Klopek's porch, including the dog's, which was hilarious. 

As they're walking up the steps to the porch, Art notices there are bars on the basement windows. In a deadpan voice, Ray points out, "They've got holes in their porch, too." He says this right after Ray's foot has sunk into the porch due to rotting wood, I guess. Actually, this movie may be funnier than I'm giving it credit for. Their address number is 669, but when Ray uses the big brass knocker, the nine is knocked down and turns to a six. He knocks again and the number sign falls out of its place and knocks off a light which reveals a bunch of bees. :::shudder:::: They run and with all the commotion they're making, I'm surprised we don't see any of the Klopeks peering out the window to see what's going on.

That evening, Ray takes his dog for a walk. And when I saw walk, what I mean he lets the dog off the leash to let him go wherever he wants and Ray walks next door to Art's house porch where he's hanging out with Ricky and drinking beer with him. Ricky asks Ray if he's ever seen The Sentinel, a movie about an old guy who owns an apartment "which is kind of like the gateway to Hell" and nods towards the Klopek house. Both Art and Ricky have theories that the Klopeks are involved in something seedy, but Ray doesn't believe any of that. At least not yet.

They each go back to their homes, and, for some reason, Art sneaks over to Ray's house and taps on the widow of the living room where Ray and Carol are watching Jeopardy. He tries to hide when Carol looks behind her, but obviously she ends up seeing him. I don't understand this. Why doesn't he just go to the door? Ray gets up and tells his wife that he'll be back in a few minutes. They get Mark who has an infrared night-vision scope (he has a bunch of these military gadgets that come in handy in the movie) so they can spy on the neighbors because Art is convinced they have a dungeon in their basement. They're going to use the scope to look in the barred up basement windows.

Meanwhile, Ricky has invited over his girlfriend who has the permed blonde hair and the colorful outfit and dangly geometric earrings. You definitely know what decade this girl comes from! He has set up two folding chairs on his front porch to watch what's going on in the neighborhood. His girlfriend (I don't remember her name or if she even had one) wants to watch TV or go to a movie, but he tells her, "This is better than anything on television. This is real. This is my neighborhood." Was Ricky ahead of his time? Was he the first to truly discover not just reality TV, but reality reality? 

A hum is coming from the Klopek house and it keeps getting louder and louder and it looks like flames are coming from the basement. This all looks very suspicious and surely it has to wake up the whole neighborhood with all the racket that's going on. I would call the police just for the disturbance! Ray is about to go over and inspect it, but the other two tell him to get down and they hide behind garbage cans when they see the Klopek garage door open and the young redhead guy backs out of the driveway to the end where the their garbage cans are situated. He gets out of the car and takes a hefty trash bag that is stuffed full of something out of the trunk and puts it in the trash can which he has to really pack in the receptacle. I think we're supposed to assume there's a body (or at least body parts) in the trash bag, but what kind of murderer tosses his victim out in his own trash? That's just asking to be caught. He then gets back in the car and drive it back into the garage. The three men all agree that it's super weird that somebody would drive from their garage to the end of their driveway to dump their trash. Yeah, no kidding. After Redhead Man goes back in the house, Art wants to investigate the trash cans, but Ray tells him it will look too suspicious if all three of them are going through their neighbor's garbage at 11 at night in the middle of a rainstorm. Mark agrees with Ray and says they'll wait til morning. 

Before he goes to bed, Ray looks out the window and sees his three neighbors, all in hooded cloaks, digging in their backyard. And remember, this is around 11 at night during a rainstorm. This is all very suss, especially considering they're all digging large holes that could fit, oh, I don't know, a body. Why not call the police? I have to admit, I wasn't sure if this scene was a dream or not when I watched it. 

Either they all woke up late or they don't know when their own garbage is picked up on their street because by the time they wake, they see the garbage truck has come and they have dumped both the trash bins at the Klopek house. Both Art and Mark see this and wave to the garbage men, telling them to stop dumping the trash, but when the realize they are too late, they both get in the garbage truck and start digging through it and all this garbage ends up on the street in a huge pile which we will see for the remainder of the movie. It's actually pretty funny that nobody will pick it up and it is just left there. Mark does tell the garbage man to pick it up since he is the garbage man, but the garbage man says he only picks up garbage that is in garbage cans and I have to side with the garbage man here. (Also, how many times can I say "garbage man" in one sentence? A lot, apparently.) He did pick up the garbage, but Art and Mark are the ones who are tossing the garbage from the truck to the street. They should be the ones to pick it up. 

Ray tells both of them that he saw the three Klopeks digging (so I guess it wasn't a dream), and they all come to the conclusion that they took the body from the garbage and buried it in the backyard. (Is burying your victim in your backyard any better than throwing it away in your trash? Maybe slightly better, but still, that's one of the first places they're gonna check if you're suspected of murder! Also, I'm sure the cops are gonna notice if your yard has been freshly dug up.) 

While all this is going on, Mark's wife, Bonnie, sees Queenie, Walter's dog, in their yard, all dirty and shaky. She picks up the dog and wonders if Walter knows that his dog is outside, but when she goes to his house, nobody answers the door. She tells this to her husband and the others (and by this time, Ricky has joined them), so they all go over to Walter's house to see what's going on. Nobody is still answering the door, so Mark breaks in through the back way and opens the door for all of them. The first thing they notice is that the TV is on and a chair is on its side as though there's been a struggle. Other than that, nothing is really out of place, but they continue searching the house. 

Bonnie goes in the kitchen to get some food for Queenie. The guys are in the living room when they hear her scream and they come running. She points to something hairy on the stove, claiming it's a rat. (In her defense, it does look like a rat...I probably would have had a similar reaction too!) Her husband tells her it's just Walter's toupee. Why it's on the stove, I'm not really sure! They think it's odd that Walter would leave his house without his hair and that must mean foul play. 

These two will go on to be in 
Oscar-winning films!
Besides the earlier scene where Art is eating breaking (and ribs and dog food) at the Peterson's, this is the only other scene where we see him around food. He picks up a plate of cookies and when he does, Ricky (who had been looking upstairs) opens the swinging door and the plate and cookies fall to the floor, everything shattering. Ray tells everyone they need to leave, which they all do. I love that they don't even sweep up the broken glass or cookie pieces. If you're worried about Queenie, no need. Ray takes her home with him, but first writes a note to tell Walter that he has his dog. His first draft reads, "Your dog is at my house. Your window is broken because we all thought that..."  When he realizes he doesn't know what to write after the ellipses, he rips up that piece of paper and simply writes him a new note: "I have you dog" and places is through the mail slot along with Walter's toupee, which he still had. (The reason why he took it, then returned it, is just for the sake of plot). 

Later, Ray and Art are in Ray's basement (with the door locked so Carol can't interfere) reading a large dusty tome titled "The Theory and Practice of Demonology." Where did they get this book? From the Sunnydale High School library? Art is convinced that their neighbors are Satanists and that Walter was a human sacrifice. I'm not sure where he came up with the conclusions. Yes, it was super suspicious that they were digging holes in their backyard, but that doesn't make them Satanists. Murders? Perhaps. And perhaps they should call the police if they really do think their new neighbors have anything to do with the disappearance of their other neighbor. Art also tells Ray that they need to go to "the religious supply store and get themselves a couple gallons of holy water." What, is he talking about the church? Turns out he is because he then adds his cousin is a priest and he can get them a deal. A deal on holy water? I didn't realize you could buy the stuff. Oh, that reminds me of the scene from The Lost Boys (speaking of Corey Feldman!) when the Frog brothers go into a church to fill up their canteens with holy water to ward against vampires. Hilarious. 

Before they go to bed, Ray does tell his wife about their theory and she thinks it's absolutely ridiculous. That night he does have a nightmare about his neighbors where he's being sacrificed. The next morning, he's watching Mr. Roger's Neighborhood. Well, he's so much not watching it as it just happens to be on and he's staring at the screen.  Ha, you could say Tom Hanks was doing research for a movie he would do thirty years in the future! 

When Ray goes out on the upper deck of his house, Art and Mark come running over, telling him they've got a plan. Carol hears them and tells them Ray isn't feeling well and needs to stay home and rest. She knows he didn't get much sleep last night. Their grand idea is to put a note that says "I know what you've done" under the door, then ring the doorbell and run away. That is so childish and what exactly are they hoping to accomplish with that? After they do it, Art runs over to Ray's backyard where Ray is trying to take a nap on a chaise lounge. Art tells him what he and Mark did and Ray can't believe he did that. He is furious because when he wrote the note for Walter and stuck it in his mail slot, he noticed that one of the elder Klopeks saw what he was doing and now he thinks that they'll think that he was the one who wrote and sent the note.

While they're bickering back and forth, Ray's dog, who had been digging in the Klopeks yard (there's a hole in the fence he's able to squeeze through) comes back with a huge bone in his mouth. It's a human femur bone (thigh bone) and this thing is massive. Art even takes the bone and throws it so the dog can fetch it a few times. I'm not sure how neither of them even notice that the dog has it until a few minutes have passed. It's kind of hard to miss, but I guess that's the joke. They finally notice the size of the bone the dog is fetching and Art recognizes it as a human femur bone. I feel like maybe now this is the time to call the police if a human bone is found in your neighbor's yard. But do they? No. Art is now totally convinced that their neighbors are murdering people and chopping them up and burying them in their backyard. He is sure that the bone belongs to Walter. Both of them scream "Nooooo!" and the movie does this annoying thing where the camera zooms in and out on their faces. A few seconds of this would have been fine, but it goes on way too long and was super annoying. They then notice that someone on the Klopek side has tossed a piece of crumped paper over the fence and of course it's the note they had received earlier. 

Carol gets the idea for the two couples (she clearly lets Art know that he is not invited) to go over to the Klopeks and introduces themselves and invite themselves over for "a nice, neighborly chat" and get to know them. Bonnie tells the two guys that they'll (herself and Carol) will "find out more in five minutes of friendly chat than in a month of snooping around." 

The redhead answers the door and they all sort of just barge in around him. We find out his name is Hans and he lives with his Uncle Ruben who we meet next. They're obviously foreign, but I don't think we ever learn where exactly they're from. Mark asks Reuben if "Klopek" is a Slavic name, but he hisses out, "No!" My guess is that they're German. For one thing, their accent sounds German and for another, Hans is wearing lederhosen. 

They're all sitting awkwardly in the living room (Carol and Bonnie on one couch, Ray and Rueben on the couch across from them, and Mark is standing against a wall) when Hans brings some (odd) snacks on a TV tray: a bowl of pretzels and a can of sardines. When offered, Carol takes some pretzels and Bonnie tells him, "I'm trying to cut back." When Ray is offered the food, he looks at Carol and she nods, so he takes a pretzel, then takes a sardine out of the can with his fingers (and it makes the most disgusting squishy noise) and places it on top of the pretzel and proceeds to eat it. By the look on Tom Hanks' face, I don't think he was acting! 

Mark knocks on the wall and floor to show them what a good, solid house they have and after he knocks on the floor with his foot, he hears a thud knock back. The Petersons and Rumsfields are startled by this, but this seems to be forgotten (for now) because Ray starts having an allergic reaction to the dust in the house. They soon meet the third resident of the house, Dr. Verner Klopek (Henry Gibson), who is Reuben's brother. He comes up from the basement wearing gloves that are covered in a red substance. When he shakes Ray's hand, we're supposed to think it's blood, but I knew it was paint. No one is that out of touch that they would shake hands with somebody while wearing bloody gloves. That is disgusting. 

The doctor tells them all how he was just mentioning to his brother how he wanted to meet all his neighbors (they sure didn't make any efforts to do that!) and now they're all at his house. Mark tells him that all the neighbors are not there and at first I thought he was talking about Art, but he actually meant Walter and tells the Klopeks they don't know where Walter is. Mark cuts through the chitchat and wants to know what the weird noise is coming from the basement. Carol quickly gets up and says she think they should go. Mark tries to get Ray on his side, telling him to tell the Klopeks that he also saw/heard the weird light/noise coming from the basement the other night, but Ray just runs towards what he thinks is the bathroom. When he opens the door, a huge Great Dane comes bounding out. The Petersons and the Rumsfields decide it's time to leave and they all convene at Ray's house. Art joins them too, because, of course he does. Ray says that the Klopeks may be eccentric, but he doesn't think there's anything nefarious going on. He tells his wife and Bonnie that he wants to talk to the guys alone. This right there should have been a red flag to Carol, but she and Bonnie just let them be. Once alone in the den (with the doors closed), we soon discover that Ray was lying about the neighbors and he definitely think there's something unsavory going on with them. He takes out Walter's toupee from his pants and tells them he found it after the dog was released. He doesn't understand how the Klopeks have this since he put it back in Walter's house. Not only that, but he found it wedged between some magazines all addressed to Walter. They surmise that means the Klopeks went back inside Walter's house and got the wig. 

The Klopeks had mentioned they were going away tomorrow for the whole day, so Ray wants to play CSI and he's "not coming back till [he] finds a dead body." He also adds, "Nobody knocks off an old man in my neighborhood and gets away with it." 

To make sure Carol doesn't find out what he's doing (because he knows she won't approve), he tells her he's going golfing with Art. He also gets her to get out of the house and visit her sister with their son. He seems very eager to get her out of the house and even Carol can sense that. He tells her he think it would be good for her to get out of the house "after the week [they've] had." 

Ricky sees that his neighbors have something big planned so he starts calling his friend and girlfriend to come down because "it'll be live" (although they're gonna have to wait awhile before they see anything, ahem, explosive). At least they can look forward to the pizza dude! 

In a really stupid move, Art climbs up a telephone pole to disconnect the wires so no alarms go off. He somehow manages to cut the right wire, but he gets shocked and ends up falling into a shed (making a comical human-shaped hole in the roof). By all accounts, Art should be dead. 

While Mark is keeping a lookout on his roof with his binoculars and Walkie-Talkie, Ray and Art are digging large holes in the Klopek's backyard, which seems to be mostly comprised of dirt. I've never seen a backyard with that much dirt and no grass at all. They're making no progress with finding anything and decide to check the house because it will be cooler. They'll start in the basement and work their way up. Art theorizes they didn't find anything while digging because the Klopeks probably dug up the bodies and are now hiding them in the basement. According to Art, these Klopeks sure move their bodies around a lot. First, they put them in the trash receptacle, then they move them to the backyard, now they're in the basement. 

In a hilarious scene, we see Ray try to break into the house by using a credit card, but he ends up just breaking the card. Luckily, it was just a credit card from a particular store (you can't tell where it's from, but I'm pretty sure it's a made up one) and Art tells him, "It was a sh*t store anyway." Ray just covers his hand with some kind of cloth and breaks the glass and reaches in to unlock the door from the inside 

It's a good thing they start in the basement because there they find a huge, old furnace. One might even call it an incinerator. It is ridiculously big for the size house they have and they notice about forty batteries are connected to it. Art turns it on and it starts whirring and making the same loud noise they hear every night so now they know what was making all that racket. Ray finds a big pile of dirt near the furnace and surmises that they must have burnt Walter's body in the furnace, then buried his bones right there. He grabs the shovel from Art and starts digging. 

It's nighttime now and and the Klopeks have just turned onto the street in their car. Even though Mark and Ricky and all of his friends are outside, none of them see their car. The Klopeks notice their furnace is on, so they know someone is in their house (and probably have a good idea who) and they turn around and leave. 

By this time, Ray has dug a huge hole (pretty sure Art isn't even helping; he's just standing next to him) and they hear a clink when the shovel hits something metal and they get all excited because they think he must have hit a crypt and Walter's body must be in there. I'm not sure where they even come to that conclusion. They don't even know what they've hit and they definitely don't have an evidence that Walter is dead. Right now, the only evidence they have of any kind of foul play going on with the Klopeks is the femur. I don't know, I feel like if your dog dug up a human bone in your neighbor's yard, you might want to call the police unless there was a valid reason for a human bone to be in their yard (not sure what good reason there would be, though!) Art calls Mark on the Walkie to tell him they've found Walter, but he kinda jumps the gun with that because they haven't! They haven't found jacksh*t!

While Mark didn't see the Klopeks from his vantage point on the roof, he does notice a car drive to Walter's house and lo and behold, Walter gets out of the car with some assistance from his daughter. (In a later scene, we find out that's who is with him in the car). Mark calls Ray on the Walkie to tell him, "Guess who's not in the basement? Walter!" But Ray doesn't hear him and just keeps digging and mud and sludge cover up the Walkie. 

Ricky also sees Walter has come back and when Art comes outside (to get Mark, I guess), he points Walter out to him. Things get even worse when the Klopeks have returned and this time they have a police car following them. Now all the neighbors notice that they are back. Art tells Ricky to keep them preoccupied so he can go get Ray. Ricky jumps on the police car's hood and tells them all these people are at his parent's house eating their food. (Hmm, I thought he had called the PIZZA DUDE!)  

Just as Art comes down to the basement, Ray yells at him to run because he's hit the gas line. Art runs out of the house screaming that the house is gonna blow and it does just that. Because Ray was struggling to get out of the hole he ad dug for himself (literally and figuratively!), he was still in the house when it exploded. By all accounts, Ray should be dead and that's what everyone thinks until Bonnie sees movement in the house. Very slowly, Ray stiffly walks out the front door. His clothes are all tattered and shredded, his skin is all ashy, and one of his eyes is closed shut. I love the way he sort of just slides down the front steps.  

We next see Carol come back (though she seemed to have left their son at her sister's because he's not in the car) and she sees a burning house, firetrucks, police cars, and a huge crowd. Despite everything, she doesn't seem too mad at her husband who could have died and he's lucky nobody else got hurt with that explosion.

One detective tells Ray that he's looking at counts of destruction of private property, destruction of public property, three counts of criminal trespassing (not sure why it's three counts), harassment, assault, vandalism, plus Walter thinks the note he received from Ray about his dog was a ransom note (even though it didn't specifically ask for money so I don't know why he would think that; though I will admit the note was a little ominous!) and he had dognapped Queenie. 

Speaking of Walter, another detective tells Art that Walter had been in the hospital and his daughter and son-in-law had taken him there. I'm guessing they were over at his house and something happened (I think they said it was his heart) when he was watching TV and thats why the chair was knocked over. He also mentions that the Klopeks had been picking up his mail which I thought was odd for a couple of reasons:
1) The Klopeks have not talked to anyone at all since they've moved to this neighborhood, and now they're getting someone's mail? That doesn't make any sense and it's just there for the plot.
b) Walter is only gone for what? Two days top? Why does he need someone picking up his mail? Hell, I've been gone for over a week and I just let my mail pile up! Luckily, I don't get that many catalogues. 
They also have this weird explanation for the wig where they said the doctor got the wig mixed up with the newspapers. Huh? How does that happen? They should have just said they took the wig to keep it safe at their house, I don't know! It really doesn't make any sense why they have the wig, but again, Ray had to find it at the Klopeks to move the plot forward. 

Art is still convinced there's a body that goes with the femur they found (I mean, he's not wrong), but Ray has had enough and starts defending the Klopeks. He's very convincing and I find myself siding with him as he yells at Art, "They didn't do anything to us" and he can't blame them for keeping to themselves because they "live next door to people who break into their house and burn it down while they're gone for the day." Uh, it didn't just "burn down", it exploded! He says they are the one who are being unneighborly. "We're the ones vaulting over fences and peeking in people's windows. We're the ones throwing garbage in the street and lighting fires. We're the ones acting suspicious and paranoid. We're the lunatics. Us! It's not them!" What he is saying is 100% correct; they are the ones who acting more suspicious (although that femur is still pretty suspicious!) than the Klopeks, who, at this point, are just eccentric. 

Ray is so fed up and just wants to go to the hospital, so in a hilarious scene, he picks up a gurney and pretty much throws it into the back of an ambulance, then flops down onto it. The doors close and while he's laying in the ambulance, Dr. Werner Klopek comes in and Ray apologizes to him and tells him once he gets out of prison, he's going to hep him rebuild his house. (Yeah, right). The foreign doctor just ignores what he's said and tells him that he may have fooled the others, but he doesn't fool him. Ray has no clue what he's talking about and Werner tells him that when he was in his basement, he must have looked in the furnace. He then goes on further to say, "You saw one of my skulls, didn't you?" What the actual f*ck? This guy is giving a lot away when he doesn't need to. Maybe there are more delicate ways to go about this than admitting that you have skulls in your furnace! (Also, how did Ray and Art miss that?) We'll soon learn in a few minutes that this is not his first rodeo (i.e. murder) so I don't know why he's being so dumb here. Well, I guess he is planning on killing Ray by injecting him with something, so it really doesn't matter if he knows that Werner is a murderer or not. 

Oh, yeah. Surprise! The Klopeks were a family or murderers after all! That's the big twist. Obviously, they did not kill Walter, but they did kill the Knapps, the elderly couple that lived in the house before the Klopeks did. Since the Klopeks already live in the house when the movie starts, we never meet the Knapps (well, for one thing because they were already dead!), but we do hear about them through snippets of dialogue. In a early scene when Art is telling Ray about how secretive and weird the Klopeks are, he defends them (I bet he regrets that now!) by saying the Knapps also weren't conversationalists and they didn't even say goodbye when they moved (and now we know why!) When the two couples are meeting the Klopeks, Mark mentions he didn't even see the Knapps move, but one of the Klopeks insist that the moving truck was out all day. The only thing we really know about the Knapps, besides that they weren't too chatty, was that they were an elderly couple. Werner goes on to tell Ray that they "took" the house from them and that he had offered to buy it, but they had refused to sell because "you know how old people are They grow so attached to things." Well, at least now we know the femur belonged to one of the Knapps. Also, I'm pretty sure you can't just kill the residents of a home and move in there...I'm no real estate agent, but I feel like there are usually papers to be signed. Also, did the Knapps have no family members who were worried about them? Unless they were a couple who never had children, so I guess it's possible. 

When he takes out the huge syringe, Ray starts to get up and tells him he thinks he forgot his wallet, but the murder doctor pushes him back down and it is revealed that Hans is sitting in the driver's seat and starts driving the ambulance erratically through the neighborhood while Ray is struggling with the doctor to keep him from sticking him with the syringe. Hans ends up crashing the ambulance in the front of Art's house. When that happens, the back of the ambulance doors open and the gurney comes rolling out with both Ray and Werner still struggling against each other. The gurney runs into the Klopek's car and when it does the trunk opens. It is absolutely hilarious when Ray stands up and starts yelling out, "Citizen's arrest! I am placing you under citizen's arrest for my attempted murder!" I mean, how many times do you ever get to say that? I feel like "citizen's arrests" are only something you see in movies and TV shows. He then tells the others (as you can imagine, everyone has gathered around them) that Dr. Klopek has confessed to the murders of the Knapps. One of the (foolish) detectives tell him he doesn't have any evidence and as he's saying that, Ricky looks into the open trunk of the car and he lifts up a blanket and says, "You do now." We see that the blanket has been covering a bunch of bones. I counted five skulls. Just how many people did they kill? (Cuz you know there's more!) 

So all the Klopeks are arrested and taken away. Why do they murder? We really never find out. Everyone goes home. The final joke is that Art's wife is back and his house is on fire. Mark and Bonnie tell him his wife is back and he exclaims, "My wife is home!?" He seems more shocked about that than his house being on fire (not to mention the huge ambulance that his ran through the front). 

Yeah, this movie is really stupid, but it was actually a lot funnier than I thought it would be, so I can see why so many people love it and why it's considered a cult classic. 

Wednesday, March 15, 2023

Il piccolo monstro marino

Luca
Director: Enrico Casarosa
Voice Talent: Jacob Trembly, Jack Dylan Grazer, Maya Rudolph, Jim Gaffigan, Sacha Baron Cohen
Released: June 18, 2021

Oscar nominations:
Best Animated Film (lost to Encanto)



Buongiorno! Mi chiamo Sara! I took a year of Italian in college and that's pretty much all I retained besides a few random words. Although, I can do a pretty good Italian accent where-a I talk-a like-a I'm-a Roberto Benigni! I want-a the spaghetti and-a meat-a-balls with parmigiano! Okay, I'll stop! 

When I first started watching Luca, the first thing I thought of was that Luca was the boy version of Ariel. You see, while Luca is not a merman (merboy?), he is a sea monster (but a sea monster with human features such as he has a human face) who can speak English (and a little bit of Italian as he lives off the coast of Italy) who is very interested in the human world and likes to collect things that come from the shores above. While not an avid collector as Ariel was, he still finds some human things he has to keep hidden as his parents, Daniela and Lorenzo (Maya Rudolph and Jim Gaffigan), do not approve. They call humans "land monsters" (I guess that's fair since the humans refer to them as "sea monsters") and tell their son that they are dangerous. They emphasize he must never go to the surface or the shore. 

Luca is a twelve-year-old sea monster and very early in the movie he meets a fourteen-year-old sea monster named Alberto. Now, I had no idea how old they were supposed to be, but that's what Wikipedia told me and that sounds about right. These species of sea monsters seem very advanced. If they step out of the water and onto land, they turn into humans. I mean, Ariel had to give up her voice to get her legs on dry land! 

But before Luca meets his new adventurous friend, he asks his grandmother where boats come from (heh) and his parents are dismayed. His grandma tells him they comes from "the land monster town just above the surface". Luca is amazed that she's actually been up there (and apparently beat a guy at cards once). 

He finds a whole treasure trove full of human things such as a wrench, a glass, a gramophone, an alarm clock, and playing cards. ("I've got gadgets and gizmos aplenty; I've got whozits and whatzits galore. You want thingamabobs? I've got twenty!") When he sees someone in a dive suit holding a spear slowing lurching towards him, he gets scared and swims into a cave where he becomes trapped. (Smart move there, Luca). Luckily, it's just Alberto, and this is when Luca meets him for the first time. Luca is amazed that Alberto often goes to the surface and "does the change". He follows Alberto to the surface, but stays under the water as he watches his new friend transform from a sea monster to a human (and the way it happens, it's just so effortless). It's Alberto who grabs Luca with a staff and lifts him out of the water. Luca, only being told bad things about the world above the surface, starts freaking out when he's turned into a human. Alberto tells him to relax and just breathe. Luca does just that and takes in the beauty of the nature around him: the grass, the trees, the sand, the crashing waves, the clouds, and the bird all around him. Then he tells Alberto he's not supposed to be here and quickly jumps back into the water and swims back home. 

The next day, he follows his new friend to the surface. He's a little reluctant at first, but then he gets the courage to skim the surface. After he changes into a human, he says it feels like his tail is still there and Alberto replies that it's "phantom tail" and that he'll get used to it. When Luca tries to walk, he immediately flops down and Alberto gives him the oh-so-great advice, "Walking is just like swimming. But without fins. Or a tail. And there's no water. Otherwise it's the exact same thing." Heh. Uh, walking is NOT just like swimming! After a few struggles, Alberto tells him to point his feet towards where he wants to go, then catch himself before he can fall and this seems to work. You know, I take walking for granted, that I'm not really sure how I would tell someone who was walking for the first time how to do it. 

Alberto shows Luca a stone (non working) lighthouse nearby where he lives with his dad, but his dad isn't around often (in fact, we never meet him, but we'll find out why later) so he does what he wants. He tells Luca, "Everything good is above the surface. (I mean, he's not wrong). This includes air, gravity, the sky, clouds and the sun. He demonstrates gravity by falling from the top of the lighthouse which is pretty far up and if he was anything other than an animated character, he would break his neck and die. Alberto loves "human stuff" and has a huge collection in his lighthouse. Luca is taken with a poster of a man riding a red Vespa, which Alberto tells him is the greatest thing in the world: "You just sit on it and it takes you anywhere you want to go in the world." The poster reads "Vespa √® libert√† which means "Vespa is freedom".

We get the first of many dream/fantasy sequences there are in the film where Luca imagines himself riding a Vespa over the ocean. 

Getting inspired, he looks around and asks Alberto if he's going to make one and makes notes that it looks like he has all the parts. Yep, everything but the motor! Luca helps him even though he keeps telling Alberto he needs to go. Several hours tick by and it is very late when he returns home. Daniela is waiting for him and demands to know where he's been. Luca internally thinks, "Don't say surface, don't say surface" and outloud he says, "Surface." It reminded me of the scene in Turning Red when Mei tells herself not to draw attention to her notebook. 

I admit the movie got me because it turns out this never happened. It was all in Luca's head as he was imagining what would be the worst outcome. When his mother is demanding to know where he's been (in reality), his grandmother saves him by telling his parents it was her fault because she sent him looking for sea cucumbers and Luca plays along with the story. Nonna knows what's up! 

The next day, he returns to dry land. Alberto is ready to try out his (very) primitive Vespa. This thing looks like something Fred Flintstone would "drive" and it looks like it's about to fall apart at any second. Alberto asks Luca if he wants to ride it and Luca, very politely, replies, "Thank you, but no thank you. I just think maybe I would die." I need to pause here to compliment the young voice cast; they all do a fantastic job. Luca is voiced by Jacob Trembly who I know best as the little boy in Room. Heh, I just read on his Wikipedia page that he's voicing Flounder in the live-action Little Mermaid. How adorable. And appropriate. From one sea-dwelling creature to another! Alberto is voice by Jack Dylan Grazer. I wasn't familiar with his name, but when I was listening to a podcast review of this movie, the hosts mentioned he was the friend in Shazam and I immediately knew who he was. Also, his uncle is Brian Grazer so you know he's met Ron Howard.

So Alberto rides his rickety Vespa down a super steep cliff while Luca holds a ramp that Alberto told him to hold. Again, it is lucky that Alberto is an animated character because he rides that thing down the steep cliff and into the ocean. He would be dead, otherwise. As he's going down, the scooter falls apart until it's just the front wheel and handlebars, pretty much. Yikes. 

We get a montage of them building another Vespa and during this time, Luca's parents find out that he's been going to the shore. During the evening, as they're laying on top of the lighthouse, Luca asks Alberto what's up in the sky and Alberto tells them they're anchovies and "the big fish protects them" as he points to the moon. Luca asks him if he's even been to a human town (and it's interesting that he says "human town" instead of "land monster town"). Alberto says no, but his dad has and he's heard all about it from it, so he claims he's "pretty much an expert." 

After day dreaming of owning a Vespa (again!), Luca falls asleep and is late getting home. His mother is waiting for him (this sounds familiar!), but this time he doesn't have his grandmother to save him. His parents show him the human stuff they found, such as an alarm clock and a playing card. They make him promise not to sneak up to the shore again. Luca apologizes and tells them, "It's not that dangerous up there." 

His dad has brought his odd brother, Luca's Uncle Ugo (Sacha Baron Cohen) to talk to Luca. Ugo has a transparent body so you can see his heart and other organs (eww) and he lives in the depths of the ocean where "it's just you and your thoughts" since there's not much to see. Ugh, that sounds horrible. And boring. I suppose he lives with anglerfish, those awful, terrifying creatures that live in the deepest depths of the sea. Daniela tells her son that he's going to stay with Uncle Ugo "for the rest of the season". She tells him the world is a dangerous place and she'll do anything to protect him, including sending him to the bottom of the ocean. As long as he's under her ocean, he'll have to listen to her! (A little The Little Mermaid humor there...isn't that what King Triton says to Ariel? It's been a minute since I've seen that movie). 

The next day, Luca is at the lighthouse (I guess his parents don't watch him very closely!) and he tells Alberto how his parents want to send him away. Alberto suggests that Luca stay in the lighthouse but Luca says his parents will look for him. Alberto tells him if he goes to the nearby town, his parents won't look for him there. (Spoiler alert: he thought wrong!) He seems to think there will be a Vespa over there waiting for them. I love this conversation between them; again amazing job by the young actors: 

"We'd swim right over to Vespatown, track down Signor Vespa-"
"Wait. Do you really think there's a Signor Vespa?"
"Makes sense, right?'
"Yes. Continue."

Hee. So Alberto finishes by saying they would have Signor Vespa build them a Vespa. It's a fool-proof plan! They swim to the shore of the town, then hide under a wooden boat they find on the ocean floor so no one sees them in their sea monster form. As they're walking through the town (which is called Portorosso, not Vespatown), Alberto tells him not to get wet and they'll be fine. The first people Luca sees walk by him are two fishermen with a sharp fishing hook and a bucketful of dead fish. Luca notices the town fountain has a statue of a man sending a spear through a sea monster.

Portorosso is a beautiful, quaint seaside village and it appears to be modeled after the Italian towns that make up Cinque Terre (which means five lands). It is a beautiful area, but you know that place is overrun with tourists. However, the only out-of-towners in Portorosso appear to be Luca and Alberto. 

Because of all the anti-sea monster propaganda, Luca wants to leave, but he is quickly distracted when he notices somebody riding a red Vespa. Alberto is convinced it's Signor Vespa. Nearby, i bambini are playing with a kickball and when it rolls over to Luca, he tries to kick it back to them, but it ends up ricocheting on the fountain and hits the Vespa, which starts to falls to the ground, but one of the minions of the arrogant young man who owns it rushes over so the vehicle falls on him instead of  the pavement. 

Ercole is the name of the young man who owns the Vespa. Heh. It almost sounds like Urkel. "Did I do that?" Ha, so I typed that into an Italian translator and it came out as "Ho fatto questo?" However, when I went to see what that translated into English, it was "I did this", so not exactly the same thing. Urkel saying, "I did this" is not as funny as "Did I do that?" 

Ercole sees the two newcomers and introduces himself to them, telling them they are lucky that nothing happened to his Vespa. The boys learn he is a "five-time winner of the Portorosso Cup" and that's how he was able to afford his Vespa. 

We meet Giulia (such a better spelling than "Julia"!) who is around Luca's and Alberto's age and is nemesis with Ercole. I should point out that Ercole is a bit older than the others; he's probably 17 or 18, so it's extra pathetic that he gets a rise out of tormenting "the Underdogs", which is what Giulia, Luca, and Alberto call themselves. 
 
Giulia asks the boys if they're in town for the race, but they don't answer her since they have no idea what it is. Luca asks her about it and she explains the race as "an epic, grueling, traditional Italian triathlon: swimming, cycling, and eating pasta." When asked what the winner receives, she tells them prize money, but they don't understand the concept of money. When they figure out that money can turn into a Vespa (a run-down Vespa with the amount they would win, but a Vespa, nonetheless), Luca thinks that he, Aberto, and Guilia should all run the race together. Giulia tells them no, that she races alone. This was something that confused me about this race: apparently you could be in teams of three where each person did one of the events, or one person could do all three events by themselves. Um, wouldn't it be much easier to split it up three ways so you don't tire yourself out? :::shrug::: Oh, well, I suppose if you're a lone competitor you win more money. But then she decides to see how they would do at the different obstacles of the race. When asked if they can swim, Alberto tells her they're terrible at it (ironically they can't do the portion of the race they would be best at!) Luca attempts to ride a bike, but he's not very skilled at it. Giulia wants to know where they're from and Alberto just replies that they're runaways. Luca adds that his family was going to send him somewhere horrible, but if he can win this race, he can be free. This is the point when Giulia decides to let them join her in the race. She decides that she'll swim, Luca will bike and Alberto will eat (not necessarily in the order!)

Giulia invites them over for dinner where her one-armed fisherman dad, Massimo, is chopping off fish heads. Gulp! This makes Luca and Alberto extremely nervous. Luca sees spears all around the house and a bulletin board with newspaper clipping of suspected spotted sea monsters. In shock, he spits water all over Alberto's face which makes his head change into his purple sea monster face and he has to quickly cover up his face so nobody sees him. Both Giulia and Massimo are facing away from them, getting everyone's plates ready when this happens. I feel like this whole transformation needs a little tweaking. I think they should only change into sea monsters if they are only completely submerged in water; not just certain parts of their body when those parts get water on them. But I get it; it's all for the drama of the storyline. BTW, the pesto pasta Massimo makes for dinner looks super delicious and now I'm super hungry! I need to order a spaghetti meal next time I put in my Hello Fresh order. (Check! I will be getting the Tuscan pork sausage and pepper spaghetti in my box next week. Delizioso!)

Giulia asks her dad for money for the entrance fee to enter the race, but he tells her money is tight and he needs more fish to sell. Luca and Alberto offer to help him catch fish. I guess they don't really care about fish. Maybe fish to sea monsters are like chicken to humans. I don't know, maybe that's not a good analogy. Do sea monsters even eat fish? It seems like they eat things like kelp and sea cucumbers, so maybe sea monsters are vegetarians? But are they all vegetarians? Oh, hell, I don't know. But what I do know is that the two boys help Massimo catch a boatload (literally) of fish. They know where all the fish are at certain times of the day. They now have enough money to enter the race and have one week to train which barely seems like enough time.

Meanwhile, Daniela and Lorenza have come to town to look for him. There's so many kids in the plaza that Daniela gets the idea to play kickball with them and use the kickball to knock them into the fountain to see if they change. A harsh, but effective plan. 

We get a montage of each kid training for their segment of the race. Luca will have to bike down Mount Portorosso and it looks super steep with lots of winding paths. I remember I once biked down a mountain in Colorado and that was not fun. And this looks way more steep (with lots more obstacles!) I love when Luca and Alberto are in a boat as they're watching Giulia swim and Luca says, "I guess that's how humans swim?" and Alberto replies with, "That's embarrassing." Haha, that was hilarious. 

As Giulia is swimming, Ercole and his cronies (Ciccio and Guido) are in a speed boat and they get near Luca and Alberto, splashing their boat and water gets on Alberto, turning him into a sea monster. He ducks down for cover and Luca goes to get him a towel but ends up accidentally pushing him off the boat. Ercole gets suspicions when he only sees one of them and sees the tail of Alberto, but then he gets distracted when Giulia starts shaking his boat and Luca is able to pull Alberto back in the boat and dry him off.  

Later that evening, while looking at the stars from the tree house where Giulia is letting the two boys stay, she sets Luca straight and tells him those aren't pescare in the sky and explains about le stelle. She shows him a telescope and he takes a look at l'universo. He gets super enthused when she shows him more books and maps and he's amazed that there are other towns and cities in Italy that are even bigger than Portorosso and is awed by the solar system. Heh, if I were Giulia, I would be thinking, what rock did this kid crawl out under from? She tells him how she's going to use her school's telescope when she's in advanced astronomy. She goes to school in Genoa and when Luca suggests to Alberto that they go visit her, they get into a fight and Alberto tells him they can't go to school because sea monsters aren't allowed. 

This fight escalates the next day when the three kids are near the sea. Luca suggests to Giulia that they go to school with her and she thinks that's a great idea. Alberto asks if her school takes non-human species, "like, perhaps, sea monsters?" (Way to get to the point!) Of course, Giulia is confused so Alberto tells her he'll show her and jumps into the water to reveal his true identity. She is freaked out by what she sees, but even worse, Luca pretends to be scared and surprised to see a sea monster too. Ercole, who was nearby, sees this (he doesn't know that Alberto is the sea monster) and starts throwing spears at him. Alberto swim away, unharmed, but it is clear he is hurt by Luca. 

Back at Giulia's house, Luca tells Massimo that Alberto left and doesn't want anyone looking for him, but Massimo decides to look anyway. Luca starts worrying about the race since it will now just be him and Giulia and asks Giulia if it's allowed if she swims and eats and he rides the bike. Apparently, this race will let three people enter together or just one person - none of this pair nonsense! Giulia is trying to tell him something but Lua won't stop babbling, so she grabs a glass of water and throws it at him. He puts up his hands and they turn into green fins, exposing that he's a sea monster. Giulia seems to understand what's going on and tells him Portorosso is no place for sea monsters. (Yeah, no kidding!) She advices him to leave before her father, hunter of sea monster, finds out. They are both sad, but Giulia tells him it's not worth risking his life over a Vespa. Especially a run down Vespa. (Giulia didn't say that last part, that was my own thought). 

Luca swims to the island with the stone lighthouse where he finds Alberto at the top. He apologies, but Alberto is having none of it. On the wall, Lua notices a bunch of marks scratched into the wall, counting off days that Alberto has been living on his own. It turns out his dad told him he was old enough to be on his own and just left him there to fend for himself. He says his dad is better off without him and so is Luca, to which Luca replies he's going to win the race and get that Vespa. 

It's now the day of the race and Luca and Giulia are entering separately. They will have to swim first, then eat (good thinking about not having the eating portion after the swimming segment!), then ride their bikes up, then down the steep terrain. For the swimming relay, Lua is wearing an old scuba diving suit so nobody will see him turn into a sea monster. The suit is so heavy that he has to walk (slowly!) on the ocean floor and can't even swim. Meanwhile, on Ercole's team, he has oiled up one of his cronies so he's nice and slick (Ercole is doing the riding portion) and when they get to the eating portion, he stuff his other teammate's face with pasta (even though that's against the rules!) Giulia is the first to finish the swimming eating legs, but the others, including Luca, are not far behind her. 

Luca has already thought he's seen his parents in town and when he starts riding his bike up the steep hill, he sees them. They know it's him and try to block him, but he just swerves around them and continues. He apologizes and tells them he has to do this. Thunder clouds are starting to appear and by the time he's made it to the top, there's a downpour. (You think they would pause and/or cancel the race because it can't be safe riding a bike down a steep hill during a rainstorm!) Luca has managed to hide under a shelter and sees Alberto running up the hill with an umbrella. This is around the time Ercole starts his ride down the hill and shoves Alberto out of the way so he trips and drops the umbrella, transforming into a sea monster in front of everyone. This causes Ercole to brake on his bike in shock. He charges at Alberto, telling his friends to fetch his harpoon. Luca wants to help, but Alberto has told him to stay where is. However, Luca doesn't listen to him when Ercole and his minions throw a net over Alberto. He rides his bike toward Alberto, and reaches a hand to to him (or a fin in this case since he's now changed into a sea monster) and they both cruise down the hill together. Ercole quickly follows them on his bike with his spear. At one point, he's standing on top of his bike (and they're still going down hill), ready to throw the spear at the sea monsters; but Giulia, who has also been following them, also sees this and runs into him which knocks him off his bike and she also falls off as well. This happens near the bottom, near the fountain, where the finish line is. Luca's and Alberto's plan had been to jump in the water and swim away, but when they see Guilia might be hurt, they both run over to her to make sure she's okay. By this point, a bunch of the townspeople have crowded around, blocking any path for them to escape. Many of them are holding harpoons or nets. Massimo is in the crowd and grabs a harpoon before he starts to walk towards them. Ercole has now joined the crowd, wanting to be the one to kill the two sea monster boys. Giulia (who's okay, by the way) tells him and the other that Luca and Alberto are not monsters and Ercole asks what they are. It is Massimo who tells everyone, "I know who they are. They are Luca and Alberto, and they are the winners" as he drops his spear. Now I thought he was going to say something like, "and they are good friends of my daughter" or something more along those lines, then add that they won the race.

So everyone (except Ercole) is happy. Even Ercole's two cronies give him the old heave-ho. Now all sea-dwelling creatures are accepted and we get a fun reveal of two old ladies who we saw earlier in the movie eating coni gelato are actually seas monsters. (I bet they know Luca's grandma!) All posters promising rewards for capturing sea monsters are torn up. 

When everyone is at the train station to say goodbye to Guilia who is heading to Genoa to go to school, Alberto sees that Luca is sad that he's not attending school with her. After she boards the train, he tells Luca that he sold their Vespa and hand hims a ticket. Luca's parents inform him they've arranged for him to go to school and he'll be staying with Giulia and her mom. Now, when Guilia talked about going to school in Genoa, I just assumed she went to boarding school. It didn't cross my mind that her parents were divorced and she stayed with her dad in the summer. His mom makes him promise to be safe and write every day. We find out it was Alberto that talked everyone into this arrangement. I wonder if Giulia knew about it or if she was surprised when Luca got on the train. Luca asks Alberto if he's going with them, but he's going to stay in Portorosso and help Massimo with his fishing. 

This movie didn't make me turn on the waterworks like most of Pixar's other work (come to think of it, nether did Turning Red), but it did make me shed a few light tears (so did Turning Red). It is one of their most aesthetically pleasing movies. I would totally visit Portorosso if it were a real place (but mostly because there seems to be no tourists!) And now I need to find some pasta to eat. Arrivederci!

Thursday, March 2, 2023

Panda Palooza

Turning Red
Director: Domee Shi
Voice Talent: Sandra Oh, Rosalie Chiang, Wai Ching Ho
Released: Mach 11, 2022

This movie is Pixar's version of Teen Wolf (but better, though that's not that hard to do!). The main character, thirteen-year-old Toronto native Meilin Lee (voiced by Rosalie Chiang), has to be one the most annoying protagonists in Pixar history. We are supposed to think this as her math teacher calls her, "A very enterprising mildly annoying young lady" (heh) and her nemesis, a fellow student named Tyler calls her, "an overachieving dork-narc." She has an overbearing mother named Ming (voiced by Sandra Oh) who she is always trying to please and she is almost too confident to a fault. She plays the flute and I paused the movie to look at the stickers on her flute case and my favorite one was a drawing of a right angle that said "I'm always right." Heh. It's actually very hard to see unless you pause the movie. 

Her family runs one of the oldest temples in Toronto where they honor their ancestors instead of a god. Their "most revered ancestor", Sun Yee, was "a scholar, poet, and defender of animals." She loved the red panda the most and Mei has a red panda cardboard costume she wears when tourists come to the temple. This will come into play later, but I really don't understand why she needs to dress up in a red panda costume.

Mei has a close group of friends that include Miriam, Priya, and Abby. I liked Miriam and Priya, but I found Abby (the one in purple) to be a bit annoying as she tends to shout a lot. The movie is quick to show us that these girls are boy-crazy teeny boppers (does anyone still even use that word anymore?) After school, they stop by the Daisy Mart, a convenience store, and they're all peering in through the front window (looking super obvious, btw), oogling over Devon, the seventeen-year-old who runs the cash register. Heh, I have to wonder if he was named after Canadian actor Devon Sawa who all the pre-teen girls loved in the '90s. All the girls are googling over Devon except for Mei. She is not impressed. She reminds her friend what "real men look like"and shows them the cover of her Tween Beat magazine which features 4*Town, the "Hottest Band of the Year" (and has five members, despite their name). They are a little bit BSB, a little bit N'Sync, a little bit One Direction, a little bit BTS. 

All the girls love 4*Town, but Mei may be the most ga-ga over them. I laughed over her introduction of the band to the viewers:  "Jesse went to art school. Tae Young fosters injured doves. Robaire speaks French. And Aaron T. and Aaron Z. are like, really talented, too." Bwah! I love the brush off of the two Aarons. Do you think they are the Chris Kirkpatrick/Louis Tomlinson of 4*Town? (Yes, I had to look up their names). Also, when did Jesse have time to go to art school? I'm not sure how old the members are supposed to be, but I'm guessing 16/17. This teenager who is in a superstar pop group has attended art school? Huh? Mei is the most infatuated with Robaire who is the Justin Timberlake/Harry Styles of the group.

Mei's mother is the more dominant of the parents, so her father is more in the background, but we do get to see him shine when we see him cooking dinner. This is an amazing scene that makes me feel like I'm watching an episode of Top Chef. (Ooh, now I want a Top Chef Pixar-style show with Mei's dad, Remi from Ratatouille, the guy who makes pasta in Luca, uh, who are some other chefs/cooks in Pixar history?) Lettuce is being chopped, oil is being poured into a pan, peppers are being tossed in said pan, dumplings are cooking in boiling water. None of this is even real, but the animation is so beautiful and amazing and realistic that it looks real and it makes me so hungry! I could really go for some dumplings right now. 

While watching TV, a commercial for the 4*Town concert comes on to announce that the tickets for their North American tour are on sale now. Ming doesn't get this group and is just shaking her head in disgust. Obviously Mei has never told her mom she likes this group even though you think Ming would pick up on this since she gets super excited when the commercial comes on. She tells her mom that she knows some of the kids at school like them, but because she wants her mother's approval, she doesn't tell her that she likes them too. (Obsessed with them is more like it!)

While doing math homework in her room (and listening to 4*Town on her headphones), Mei starts doodling a picture of a boy in her notebook. I assumed it was supposed to be one the members of 4*Town, but then she notices it "kinda looks like Devon." She draws a "sexy" picture of him, then rolls under bed with her notebook and pencil and starts drawing more pic, my favorite being Devon as a merman. Hilarious. When her mom knocks on the door to bring her a snack, she panics and quickly rolls out from under the bed and jumps on her bed, trying to be casual. In the haste, she had knocked her notebook out from under the bed so half of it is visible. She tells herself to be cool and not look at the notebook and attract any attention to it, but of course she does and her mom follows her gaze and sees it. She picks it up, thinking it's Mei homework and wanting to check it.

Now I find Mei to be extremely annoying, but there were times when I felt for her and this was one of those times. Her mother sees the "sexy" drawings of this boy, one of them being him holding a lovestruck Mei in his arms. There's honestly nothing that scandalous or predatory about these pics, but Ming doesn't see it that way. She is outraged and asks Mei if this boy did these things to her. The only picture we actually see where Mei is also in them is the one where we're shown so I have no idea what  other things she drew. Ming immediately recognizes him as "the sketchy clerk from the Daisy Mart" because of his distinct hat. The next thing Mei knows, her mom has driven her to the conveniance store and she marches inside where she rips Devon a new one. Mei barely even has time to try to explain anything and even if she did, it's clear her mother isn't listening. Her mother definitely overreacted. I'm not even sure if this is the worst thing she does in the movie or another scene in the movie. Oh, and there is anther scene forward the end which is pretty bad. Oh, and one before that. Heh, even though Ming may mean well, she does some pretty embarrassing and unforgiving things to her daughter. 

In the scene where Ming is shredding Devon to pieces, I don't know who I feel worse for: Devon or Mei. Devon is being accused of things he's never done, but a bunch of other kids are there to witness this, including Tyler. Mei's mother has even brought the drawings which she slams down right in front of Devon as she falsely accuses him of taking advantage of her daughter. Everyone sees these and just start howling with laughter. Oh, man. Poor Mei. How absolutely mortifying. To make things worse, the next day at school, she will find these drawings all over because Tyler took them and posted them all over the school corridors. I don't know why Mei just didn't grab the drawings before she left, but maybe she just wanted to get out of there.

So this whole episode is the catalyst for what is about to happen the next day. She wakes up as a red panda the next morning. Now she's still her regular size (perhaps a little taller), but is just now a red panda. Red pandas are pretty small; about 20-25 inches long (thank you, Google), so it's not like she's the size of an actual red panda because than she would be much smaller. 

When she walks into the bathroom (and there is a pretty amusing shot where we see Panda Mei  walking across the hall from her bedroom to the bathroom while her parents are at the kitchen table reading the paper and if they had looked up, they would have seen her (and had quite the surprise!) It's when she sleepily glances at herself in the mirror that she sees something if awry. But don't you think you would notice you were a giant fluffy red panda even before you saw yourself in the mirror. I would imagine having all that fur on your body and having a tail would just feel different and you would just know you weren't yourself. (Not to mention she could just glance at her hands, er paws). But this is a trope that's been done in Teen Wolf or Big or 13 Going on 30 or any body morphing movie. 

When she sees herself, she screams and shuts the door and her parents are concerned. Ming knocks on the door, asking if she's okay, thinking Mei might be sick. I got Christina Yang vibes when she asks, "Is it a fever? A stomach ache? Chills? Constipation?" Then she asks her if, "the red peony bloomed." OMG. Ewww. That's way too visual! Before I saw this movie, I had heard that her turning into a red panda was a metaphor for her getting her period (eh, I must have heard wrong because that's not exactly what it is), but I thought it was gonna be more discreet than what it turns out to be. Mei denies that she has her period, then quickly changes her mind and says, "Maybe" in order to explain her odd behavior. Ming thinks it is too soon (what is she talking about? Her daughter is 13! Most girls get it by then, if not even earlier!). She tells Mei she'll get her everything she needs and comes back later with everything she needs (if you didn't get the "red peony blooming", it's pretty obvious now with the supplies she brings). She just straight up barges into the bathroom without knocking first. So not cool. Honestly, I'm surprised she even knocked when Mei was doodling under the bed. Before her mom can see her, Mei has just enough tie to hide behind the shower curtain. I'm surprised Ming couldn't smell her since we saw Panda Mei take a whiff of herself earlier and made a face. 

Mei screams at her mom to get out, then feels bad for yelling at her mom and tells her she didn't mean it. She starts crying, declaring she is "a gross red monster" (don't we (females) all feel like that around that time of the month? I know there's nothing I'd rather do than just hibernate in my room wishing for death). Her mother is trying to comfort her, telling her it's not that bad. We see her hand reach for the shower curtain and she starts to pull it back to reveal Panda Mei, but then she becomes distracted by something burning on the stove and runs to the kitchen. 

So just for a second, I thought that maybe Mei didn't really turn into a red panda, that she just saw herself as one and everyone else would see her as her usual self, but no, she is legit a red panda in this.

Panda Mei scurries back to her room where she decides if she just goes back to sleep, then she will wake up as her normal self, as though she's convincing herself that she's just dreaming. She takes a couple of deep breaths and her panda ears vanish; she takes a couple more breaths and she's back to her normal self. The only difference now is that her hair is red instead of black; to match her newly acquired red panda fur. The second she excitedly exclaims, "Yes!", she turns back into a panda. It doesn't take her long to realize that when she gets worked up with emotion, she turns into a panda. 

Her mom drives her to school and Mei talks like a zombie, telling her everything is fine. She wears a beanie (or toque, to Canadians) to hide her red hair.  Her school is called Lester R. Pearson Middle School and I admit, I had to Google that name to see who he was. He was the 14th Prime Minister of Canada and served from 1963-1968. This is very interesting because I recently found out that the Canadian flag that we're all familiar with today wasn't the national flag of Canada until 1965! That shocked me because that's really not all that long ago. The flag they used to have was red with the Union Jack in the upper left corner (which is usually called the canton) and Canada's Coat of Arms on the right side of the flag. The Coat of Arms changed a few times. There's a lot of red space on this flag. Look, I understand they had the Union Jack on their flag because it's part of the Commonwealth, but their old flag was....not that great. You can see what it looked like (and the different variations of the Coat of Arms) in this link. It was Prime Minister Pearson who proposed Canada would have a new flag while he was in office, and he was right. Anyway, long story short, there was a few candidates for the new purposed Canadian flag (some just as bad as the old flag because they weren't all the different) and the maple leaf flagwas the one that was chosen, as we all know. So Canada went from having a meh flag to one of the most iconic and well-known flags in the world. Smart move, Canada. Bet you weren't expecting a little history lesson! 

When Mei walks into school trying not to get overexcited by anything, her friends come up to her and tell her they know what happened last at the Daisy Mart. Basically, Tyler told them that her mom went nuts and that she's kind of a perv. Heh. At first, she starts to (naturally) get angry, but she's able to calm herself down before she morphs into a big red panda. She just tells her friends that there was a misunderstanding. This is when she sees Tyler putting up the pictures she drew and she declares she's gonna kill him. She's not able to keep her anger in check because she notices one of her hands turns into a fluffy red paw, then she gets a fluffy red tail under her skirt which she is trying to hide, but to no avail. 

She is able to run to her math class without anyone seeing her tail and is able to calm down as she enjoys math and can just relax and learn. And everything seems to be going well until she sees her mom is outside looking super shady as she's hiding behind a tree and peering out around it. A security guard comes up to her and tells her she can't be there and she should go to the front office. (Which begs the question, why IS she standing outside the window?) We find out that Mei forgot her pads (probably because she doesn't actually have her period) and Ming lifts up the box, waving them so everybody can see. At this point, everyone in the classroom is looking out the window so they don't notice when Mei turns into a red panda. The only one who does see this is Ming. I get that they have Ming coming to the window and trying to get Mei's attention to to give her the pads so Mei will get super embarrassed and turn into a panda, but I don't understand Ming's reasoning in this at all. Why didn't she just put the pads in a paper sack, go to the front office, tell them her daughter forgot something important and make sure she got it, then they could have called Mei to the office and given her the paper bag. There. Problem solved. But yeah, I know, we need it to progress the plot forward. 

Mei the panda runs out before anyone can see her. She hides in a bathroom stall and when she walks out of the stall, she runs into a blonde girl who was giving me serious Quinn from Daria vibes (heh, if you ever watched that show). Panda Mei runs out of the school and runs all the way home basically destroying whatever she runs across. 

While following/chasing Panda Mei though the city, Ming calls her husband to tell him there's been an emergency with their daughter who she finds in her room when she returns home. Her mother is trying to comfort her and when her dad comes in and sees her daughter as a red panda, he asks, "It's happened already?" This stops Mei from crying and she asks, "What did you say?" (Oh, and in case if it wasn't clear; Mei is able to speak when she's a panda). Ming tells her that their ancestor, Sun Yee, had "a mystical connection with red pandas" and asked the god to turn her into one and she got her wish. She passed this down to her daughters when they "came of age" and they passed it to their daughters and so on. Ah, the family curse. 

However, there is good news because Ming tells her there's a cure. She knows this because it happened to her. Mei asks her mom why she didn't warn her about it, which I think is a pretty valid question. Her mom tells her she thought she had more time. To get rid of the panda, she'll have to undergo a ritual at the next red moon that will seal her red panda spirit. She shows Mei the necklace she's wearing which has her panda spirit sealed in it. I don't know, I feel like it would be better to keep that tucked away in a jewelry box than wearing it because you never know if that thing might break or something....just saying. Of course, I'm probably just saying this in hindsight as I've already seen the movie and know what happens. Ming warns her daughter that any strong emotions will release the panda and the more the panda is released, the more difficult the ritual will be and she only has one chance to banish it. Mei is dismayed when the next red moon won't be until May 25th, which is nearly a month away. 

The next morning, her friends come to her bedroom window (her room is on the first floor) to check on her. As fas as they know, Mei ran away because her mother embarrassed her by bringing pads. I love how one of her friends asks her, "You need more pads? I brought extra." Mei, in panda form, is hidden from the window so they don't see her. However she forgets she's a panda when Abby announces, "4*Town's coming to Toronto!" (Of course 4*Town is coming to Toronto! They just announced their North American tour and Toronto is the biggest city in Canada). Panda Mei appears in the window, excitedly exclaiming, "What?!" Her friends scream and she pulls all three of them in through the window (strong panda!) and tells them to be quiet and they oblige. She explains her red panda form as some "inconvenient genetic thingy [she] got from [her] mom." 

Her friends tell her 4*Town is coming May 18th and this upsets Mei even more because she'll still have her panda powers. Her friends make her feel better by singing a 4*Town song ("I never met nobody like you....") and she changes back to a girl. She explains to her friends that she only changes into a red panda when she gets too excited, so Abby pinches her and Mei gets mad, but she doesn't change into a panda. When she asks Abby to hit her (and she gives her a pretty good smack!) and still doesn't change into a panda, she realizes that being around her friends calms her down and neutralizes the panda. They all realize this means that Mei can attend the concert after all so that night they all decide they're going to ask their parents if they can attend the concert.

Mei tells her parents she think she's made a breakthrough and she goes through a test where they attempt to bring up sore subjects to see if she can control her emotions and not turn into a panda. This includes deforestation, a picture of a sad orangutan, and her second place spelling bee trophy. But it's not just negative emotions that turn her into a panda, it's also feelings of euphoria, so the last test is a boxful of adorable kittens and at first Mei can't control her excitement (hell, neither could I!), but then she thinks of her friends and is able to remain calm. Her mom asks her how she is able to control her panda and she replies, "When I start to get emotional, all I do is imagine the people I love most in the world." Of course Ming thinks she's talking about her and Mei confirms this so as not to hurt her mother's feelings. 

She asks her parents about the concert and her mom replies, "absolutely not." She doesn't think Mei will be able to stay calm and will get too excited at the concert. I have to agree with Ming here. In fact, we see Mei daydreaming about attending the concert with her friends and they're all screaming their heads off and going crazy. There's no way she would not get excited even with her friends around. However, even if there wasn't the whole panda business thing going on, Ming still would have told her no. After Mei goes to her room in a huff, Ming is venting to her husband. She doesn't understand why a ticket costs $200. "Who do they think they are? Celine Dion?" Heh. 

The next day we find out the other girls can't go to there concert either. One of them says her parents says she can go when she's 30, another one's parents called it "stripper music" (heh) and the third girl's parents said yes, but she has to buy her own ticket. The girls decide they're gonna go to the concert and will just tell their parents they're sleeping over at Miriam's house. I'm pretty sure she was the one who said her parents would let go to the concert as long as she paid for the ticket, so maybe her plan is to tell her parents the other girls are also allowed to go? :::shrug:::

As they're thinking of ways to make money, Abby asks Mei to turn into the panda because she wants a "hit". They're in the girl's bathroom and after Mei turns into the panda, the door opens and a few girls walk in, including the bubbly blonde girl who saw the panda the other day. I love that she has butterfly clips in her hair because I used to do that (only a couple times, though, cuz it took forever) back in the late '90s/early 2000s. All the girls are in love with the panda and think it's "the cutest thing ever!" and this is how Mei and her friends realize how much people love the panda and they can take advantage of that by having people pay to take pictures with the panda as well as receive hugs from the panda and buy panda paraphernalia. Mei tells her mom that she's joined the Mathletes (you'd think she was already a part of that club) to have an excuse for not being home after school. We get a montage of kids waiting in line outside the classroom where Mei and her friends have established their business (they never make any mention if any teachers know what's going on) as Abby collects money from them before they get a Panda picture or buy t-shirts or key chains. Hell, they even sell red panda tails. They also never mention where they get the money to buy their merch. I guess from their own stash. When one of Mei's friends sees Ming approaching with snacks, she warns everyone and the girls turn the room into a regular classroom where it looks like they're studying math. 

The concert is only a few days away and the girls are still $100 short. They're discussing this while sitting on the bleachers watching some boys run track. The girls are "whoo hooing" the boys (that sounds really dirty, especially if you play The Sims!) and Mei even shouts at one of them, "Are you a triangle? Cuz you acute." Oh, God, that is so cringe. I can't see any thirteen-year-old girl (any age, really) saying something so lame and embarrassing unless they were really that un-self-aware, which Mei may be. Tyler is under the bleachers and is ready to blackmail Mei. He asks Mei if her mom knows she's been "flaunting the panda all over school." He's having a birthday party and wants Mei to be there as the panda so it will be "epic". It's the day before the concert and she agrees if he'll pay her $200 and once he agrees to that, she tells him she'll only be the panda for an hour. Look, I know Tyler is a little sh*t, but Mei can't stay for a couple hours? Also, when do the girls plan on buying their tickets? I feel like all the tickets would be sold out now, but maybe things were different in 2002. Oh, have I mentioned this movie takes place in 2002? I don't think I have because it hasn't organically come up. 

I was confused during the scene when Mei is heading to Tyler's house for his birthday party. She tells her parents she's going to a meeting of the Mathletes, but isn't that right after school? I understand that Tyler's party is probably later in the evening, around seven, but why not just tell your mom you're going to one of your friends' house. Or just stay after school and call her from there and tell her you're going somewhere with your friends. I don't know! But I guess we need to have it this way because when she tells her parents this, her mom insists that she joins, which is just super weird to me. 

Earlier in the movie, Ming had gotten a call from her own mother, Wu, (who's retired in Florida) who had seen the news coverage of a red panda wrecking havoc around Toronto, so she knew exactly what was up. She had told Ming she was coming "with reinforcements" because she doesn't think Ming can handle Mei and her panda. And sure enough, as Mei and Ming are walking outside, Mei's grandmother and aunts (four of them) have arrived. Now Mei definitely can't go to Tyler's (not sure how she was planning on ditching her mom if her relatives hadn't shown up) because she needs to stay to open presents and eat and chat about the panda. While all this is going on, we get a small scene over at Tyler's house where everyone is sitting in the living room (boys on one side, girls on the other side) looking bored and awkward. Tyler, of course, is pretty irked.

Mei feigns being tired, then hurries to her room where she puts stuffed animals under her bed (honestly, does that even work in real life? That's such a cliche in movies and TV shows), but before she can escape out her window, her grandma comes into her room to have a little chat with her. She tells Mei she knows she's been changing into the panda because she found a tuft of red fur. She knows "it feels so good to let the beast out, so free", but warns her granddaughter that each time she does, it will get stronger and she'll be bound to it forever and the "ritual will fail." She says she and Mei's mother were once close (you can tell their relationship is a bit strained now), but the panda took it away. Wu has a scar above her left eye, so obviously she was attacked by Ming when she was in panda form. She tells Mei there can be no more panda because she is "[her] mother's whole world." Now while Wu is having this conversation with her granddaughter, is it interesting that she doesn't seem to notice that there is obviously something stuffed under her covers! 

After Wu leaves her room, Mei still sneaks out. She takes her grandmother's advice and shows up to Tyler's house in the cardboard red panda costume that we saw earlier in the movie and I mentioned would come back. So here it is. Everyone is disappointed and Tyler's angry. He tells Mei he wants his money back since he's paying for the real panda and "not this garbage." 

Her friends take her aside and she tells them she can't turn into the panda anymore (but doesn't explain why). They are understanding and each one starts sacrificing their spot at the concert (remember, they only have enough money for three tickets). Finally, Miriam (rationally) says, "If we can't all go, then none of us should go." The four friends are really sad and disappointed and a frustrated Mei says to herself, "just one last time" as she turns into the panda. This immediately livens up the party and we get a montage of everyone partying with the panda set to "Bootylicious" by Destiny's Child. "Kelly, can you handle this? Michelle, can you handle this? Beyonce, can you handle this? I don't think they can handle this. Whoooo!" It's panda-monium! Yes, you may groan at my awful pun. 

Back at the Lee household, Ming goes to check on Mei and when she opens her bedroom door, the first thing she notices is that the window is open. Rookie mistake. You would think the next thing she would notice would be the stuffed animals under the covers, but it's the red panda merch that's sticking out from under the bed. (Mei really does a terrible job of hiding things). She looks under the bed and sees the money and all the evidence of what they've been up to. She also notices the flyer for Tyler's party so she knows where she is. 

But before Ming is about to show up, we get a scene of the four girls on top of Tyler's roof after Panda Mei giving panda rides and shaking her panda booty to "Bootylicious" and what not. They're excitedly talking about the concert they now have enough money for all of them to attend. So I haven't mentioned yet that Mei has a Tamagotchi. You always see it with her, but it's never really a huge plot point...until a little bit later. I remember them being a huge thing in the late 90s. I never had one because I was a little too old for them...plus, honestly, I didn't see the appeal of them. I feel like they would be fun at first, but would get boring after awhile. Anyway, Mei has named her Tamagotchi "Robaire Jr" and she tells it, "You're gonna meet your daddy." Oh, dear God, these girls are so cringe. And so thirsty. Look, I've had my celebrity crushes (Diego Luna has an open invitation to teach me Spanish anytime), but boyband crushes just seems so low-brow. :::Scoffs:::: 

They talk about Mei's upcoming ritual and Miriam asks her what if she kept the panda instead of doing the ritual. Her friends like how the panda has changed her, how she's more rebellious. They start calling each other and everything "da bomb" which cracked me up because I remember using that phrase in the early 2000s. 

There's a portable radio with them on the roof and we hear the DJ announce that 4*Town is coming to Toronto on the 25th, NOT the next day. Ruh-roh. Who didn't see that coming? Mei starts freaking out since that's also the day of the ritual and Abby tries to calm her down because she is sure the DJ is wrong. She gets out the magazine insert with the cities and tour dates listed on it, and sure enough, they are coming to Toronto on the 25th. It's Toledo where they'll be tomorrow. I can't believe she got the date of her favorite band coming to her own town wrong! You would think one of the other three would double check this as well. 

Because of this, Mei is already in a pretty pissy mood, but she becomes even more agitated when Tyler tells her she needs to get back to work (apparently her hour wasn't up) and she turns into the panda and almost ends up attacking him. By this time, Ming has arrived and sees what's going on. Tyler's parents are furious and she has to apologize for her daughter. After his parents tell everyone to go home, Ming walks right past Mei (who is expecting her mother to yell at her) and right up to her three friends and tells them, "I can't believe you girls would use her like this." She then proceeds to accuse all of them of putting thoughts into Mei's head and now she's "lying and sneaking out." She also blames them for using her to get the money for the concert tickets and doesn't believe that her daughter likes this group of "tacky delinquents." (Ouch, sick burn, Ming!) She concludes that her daughter is "a good girl and [they've] taken advantage of her." When her friends expectantly look at Mei to get her to tell her mom the truth, she says nothing and seeks comfort from her mom, Damn, that's cold. You suck, Mei. 

A week passes and we see Mei's three friends without her at the concert purchasing their tickets. Mei is eating dinner with her family and will soon be getting ready for the ritual to rid of the panda. She has a heart to heart with her dad and he asks if her mom has ever told her about her panda, but Mei says she hasn't; that she won't talk about it. Her father tells her that Ming's panda was "destructive" and "big" (and he ain't lying!) and that he only saw it once when she and her mother had a terrible fight over him because Wu didn't approve of him. (Don't get too much of that backstory, but I guess it explains why the relationship between Ming and Wu is a bit strained). 

The ritual involves Mei sitting inside a large circle that's been drawn with chalk and her aunts chanting in Cantonese. Apparently, the doors to the realm Mei needs to get into will only open if people are singing from their hearts. We find out it doesn't even matter what's being sung (a little foreshadowing there). At the last minute, Mei decides she wants to keep her panda form and breaks the ritual as she runs away to the concert. Ming tries to hold her back from escaping, but Mei throw her back and Ming's necklace (containing her panda spirit) ends up cracking. Gee, I wonder what ever will happen. Oh, look, her panda spirit is swirling around her. I think she's about to become a (big and destructive) red panda! 

Mei transforms between girl and red panda as she traverses through Toronto to the SkyDome (I guess it's called Rogers Centre now) and she's swinging through buildings and falling and flying like she's Spider-(wo)man or something. I love how she just free falls in through the stadium as the red panda and lands on her feet as herself pretty much right in front of her friends, who are pretty quick to accept her apology. She tells them she didn't say anything to her mother because she didn't want to disappoint her mother, but the thought of losing her friends made her feel even worse. Eh, I don't know. If I were her friend, I would have have given her the cold shoulder a little bit longer. She was touched because apparently, she had left her Tamagotchi at Tyler's and Miriam had been taking care of it so it wouldn't die. (So did you have to buy a new one if it died? Cuz if so, I bet those "died" pretty often so they would make you spend more money to buy another one!) 

Speaking of Tyler, they spot him in the crowd and they're excited he's a "4*Townie" and pretty much immediately accept him. Um, okay, sure. This is only the kid who humiliated Mei by posting those drawings she did of "Dreamy Devon" all over the school and blackmailing her to make her perform at his party. 

So the concert starts and the five boy band members are all dressed in white with angel wings (oh man, it's so hilarious) and everyone is going wild and the girls, especially Mei, look like they're about to faint. Mei is even close to touching Robaire when her mom, as the "big and destructive" red panda comes over to wreck things. And when I say "wreck", I mean that literally! You know how big Godzilla or the Marshmallow Man from Ghostbusters was? Ming's red panda is about that size too. And I thought Mei's red panda was big for a red panda! I don't know why Ming's panda was so freakin' huge! The 4*Town members, "flying" over the stage with wires look pretty terrified when they see this huge Godzilla panda stomping toward them and it's pretty hilarious. 

Ming is hollering at everyone to go home and everyone goes running because they don't want to be squished by a huge red panda and they're all pretty pissed that the concert has been ruined. (And let's remember, only the first song of the show was being sung when Giant (red) Panda Ming showed up. 

Luckily Mei's dad, grandma, and aunts have all showed up to help stop Ming. They need to perform the ritual on her so she can rid of her panda. None of them are strong enough to contain her, so Wu and her daughters break their jewelry that contain their pandas to help Mei (who is also in her panda form). These pandas must have some super strength because they're able to contain Panda Ming in the huge chalk circle Mei's dad has drawn. Mei's friends have gotten 4*Town to sing (remember, I said this would come back) so the ritual will work and Ming (and Wu and the aunties) are able to banish their pandas, but Mei keeps hers. So perhaps we'll see a sequel (or more) in the future. 

In the epilogue, Mei tells us that "people still talk about Pandapocalypse of 2002" and that Ming's panda is now housed in Mei's Tamagotchi and her Grandma's panda is in a 4*Town plastic pendant. God, how embarrassing!

They are raising money for the ruined SkyDome, so now Mei can actually turn into a red panda at their temple and they make money by taking pics and selling merch. (Sounds familiar!) Their goal is 100 million and they only have $10,000 so far. Oh, boy.

Here is a picture of the director (Domee Shi) with a red panda at the San Francisco zoo. How cute is that?