Noting storytelling subtleties in Bao and Turning Red

Cassiel C. MacAvity





    For anyone who hasn't seen them, Bao is a short film linking food and family, and Turning Red is a full length movie about a 13 year old being 13 and encountering being 13. With both, there is the usual overall storytelling progress of rushes on the floor in the first act, bodies on the floor in the fifth act. And with both movies, there are particular presentation support bits that aren't the main central storytelling, but which quite completely underline what is going on.

    With Bao the movie, it is very much about bao the steamed buns, and, in fact, opens with buns being made from scratch, starting with the dough being rolled out. Through the movie, how bao get eaten helps underline how busy or preoccupied someone is when doing the eating.

    Early in the movie, two people are eating, one bun apiece gets selected, munch, much, munch. And then one of the two people needs to leave, there is a blur of chopsticks, and a second and third bun quickly disappear. The other person is not in a hurry, the munching of one bun at a time matter of factly continues. Later on, a pair of people have gotten buns, no hurry, time can pass, they sit, they munch. A bit further on, someone has much going on, there is nothing at all relaxed at that point, one fast gulp. A bit later, again there are two just sitting, definitely there is no hurry at all, again just sit and munch. Finally, at the end, the movie finishes with another batch of buns being made.

    In Turning Red, assorted munching also underlines. Near the beginning, something's been out of place, being out of place must be addressed, a plate of bao appears from quite literally nowhere, a bao gets shoved into a mouth. After a moment, all is reassured, there isn't actually any emergency, and a second bao is able to be selected and eaten more slowly, before everything continues. A bit further on, breakfast is being served, a box of snacks gets placed on a table, and a hand gets slapped when reaching for the box. And then something goes very awry, with the resulting distracted attention. With that distraction occurring, the hand blurs back across the table and one of the snacks immediately disappears into a mouth. Further distraction is provided, and another of the snacks is grabbed and methodically chewed on---and then everything gets even worse, the chewing becomes a sudden swallowing gulp, all snacks forgotten, it's time to very slowly back up and get out of sight.

    With Turning Red, as noted, the main story is of a 13 year old, named Mei, being 13. At the same time though, Mei being 13 is, well, actually, pretty much just a 13 year old being 13. Certainly change occurs, and is noticed, but then again, the essence of change is indeed that it does occur. In short, water is wet, occasionally there is a red moon in the sky that will be followed by another one in enough time, and is this really any sort of unique story? Now, in Turning Red, there being change does get amplified, in that any time that her emotions erupt, Mei now also changes into an eight foot tall red panda. However, while the changes and eruptions of being 13 happen to those who are 13, in her case, being a shapeshifter actually also is a regularly occurring feature of her family. Her mother, Ming, is a shapeshifter and started at 13 or so, her aunts are shapeshifters and they started at around 13, her female cousins will be or are shapeshifters, her grandmother, Wu, is a shapeshifter. Oh, and as far as people around them reacting, even when a 162 foot tall red panda appears at one point in the movie, the overall issue is not that shapeshifting has happened. Instead, the issue is assessing what any one shapeshifter may do. Basically, when one thinks about the relative lack of reaction from everyone, rather apparently the story universe of Turning Red has a very established history of assorted shapeshifters being here and there, oh look, there goes another.

    With Turning Red, the core bit that is sitting in the background is that Ming is a walking bomb, has already quite detonated once, is an entirely very much rearmed bomb, and is quite capable of detonating again until someone can figure out how to defuse her.

    The movie does indeed not start off with a proclamation of Meet Ming, she may detonate at any moment. Some bit into the movie, she does ricochet from one room to another, bounce off a vase, catch the vase, put the vase back in place, ricochet in and out of another room, but that is merely reacting to a surprise she should have anticipated. And then one day Wu calls on the phone, which is Wu's introduction in the movie. Ming is terrified, but then when Wu appears, one sees a perfectly normal hand, a perfectly normal set of lips, and then one sees a perfectly normal eyebrow, but one with a very prominent scar running through the eyebrow and up the forehead. No one else is seen with a scar, but Wu is, and Ming alone has that scale of a reaction to Wu. A bit later, the idea of Ming shapeshifting comes up, and everyone shudders. Shapeshifting being a feature of the family has already been established, but off in the background, there is something about Ming doing the shapeshifting that gets everyone's attention. Later on in the movie, the terror, the scar, the memories that everyone has, all get linked together. When they do, there really isn't any surprise, because what occurs is merely what has already been outlined by the background subtleties.

    For anyone who hasn't seen them, Bao is a short film linking food and family, and Turning Red is a full length movie about a 13 year old being 13 and encountering being 13. With both, there is the usual overall storytelling progress of rushes on the floor in the first act, bodies on the floor in the fifth act. And with both movies, there are particular presentation support bits that aren't intentionally the main central storytelling, but quite completely underline what is going on.





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Cassiel C. MacAvity