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.
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:::
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.
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."
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.
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?