Review: Pixar’s Turning Red


When thinking of classic, top notch films the enticing Disney productions come to mind for many. There are so many iconic Disney films such as The Little Mermaid, Moana, Princess and the Frog, Toy Story, Monsters Inc, and so many more. Disney’s earliest films generally revolve around the classic, loved notion of a prince and princess with an epic love story and life struggles. As the years have progressed Disney has broadened their spectrum dramatically being that their productions are far more inclusive and share much more relatable aspects of life for audiences to connect with. One of the most recent Disney films that has come to light is Disney’s Turning Red, this film is an exquisite representation of a coming of age story and also taps heavenly into Chinese heritage and culture. 

Turning Red is about a young girl named Mei who is developing as a young woman, she is going through puberty which leads to lots of emotional changes and struggles within herself. Mei’s mother, Ming Lee, is extremely overprotective and cares greatly about Mei achieving certain standards and holding herself to a high standard but with this comes a deep, complex love between them and their relationship. What helps Mei through her difficult coming of age experience is her friends Miriam, Priya, and Abby, they stick by Mei’s side through all her hardships and never fail to be there for her through it all. 

Mei’s story is extremely relatable to many. As Mei is going through puberty, she experiences very strong emotions just like any young girl of her age. When Mei exerts strong emotions throughout the film, she turns into a red panda. While this might seem confusing, the symbolism behind the red panda is extremely significant, the obvious symbolism is puberty but it is much deeper than this. Ming Lee (Mei’s mother) informs and teaches Mei at a very young age of the importance of her ancestors, through the temple in which Mei and her family maintain in respect to their ancestors and their Chinese heritage. When the red panda first appears, Mei is immensely confused but she later learns a deep truth from her mother and the importance the red panda holds. The truth is that the temple in which they maintain is dedicated to their ancestor, Sun Yee who holds a great connection to the red panda. During a time of war, Sun Yee was looking for a way in which to protect her family and village from danger. One night, Sun Yee prayed to the gods to turn her into a red panda in which she could then protect both her family and village through this diminishing time in which the gods answered. When Sun Yee was able to tap into her deep emotions, she was able to turn into a red panda in which she defended her people. This gift of the red panda was then passed through the family of women but as time went by many women of the family began to feel it was more of a curse rather than a gift including Mei’s mother. Due to this, Mei’s mother and other women of the family found a way to banish the red panda from themselves through a ritual in which they were able to live their lives without the “curse” of the red panda. Here’s where the symbolism comes in, throughout the film, Mei struggles with the gift of the red panda being that if she exerts strong emotions she then turns into a big fluffy being. This is of course very difficult for Mei to deal with and control but as the story progresses Mei learns to harness her powers and figures out that getting rid of her gift like her mother did might not be what she wants. Ultimately, through many hardships and learning experiences, Mei decides to keep the gift of the red panda. After realizing that while some of her ancestors may see it as a curse, to her it is a gift, and to which each individual chooses to do with their gift of the red panda is what really matters most. The meaning of a red panda is gentleness, compromise, and patience and Mei’s way of controlling and utilizing her gift of the red panda is remarkable to the audience. The message that young women and men should embrace their emotions rather than push them away in a way that makes them happy and controlled  is extremely inspiring and an outstanding matter that is so very important to not only women and men of all ages but especially young women and men. To go along with this, Mei’s decision in embracing her panda and the many choices she made throughout the process relates to the burden that many second hand generations have with their families expectations. Although Mei’s mother holds a deep love for her, she is extremely hard on Mei due to high expectations which is something many audience members can relate to. This idea also heavily relates to Chinese culture as well being that while people not of this heritage may likely have it easier when coming of age. Due to the fact that these individuals likely do not have to heavily consider their ancestors while people of Chinese culture typically do. Overall, the film helps to demonstrate the cultural difference being that Mei’s friends do not have to deal with things Mei does such as having to take into deep consideration what her elders want for her and how they want her to go about it. This allows for individuals of Chinese culture to deeply relate to Mei and her story. Disney productions’ way of being inclusive to all individuals of all different cultural backgrounds is extremely important and in the film, Turning Red it demonstrates this greatly. 

To go on, Turning Red is so understandable for a vast majority of people for many other reasons. Going through puberty is something that everyone goes through and by seeing it being talked about is very important because it makes individuals realize they are not alone. There are not enough movies out there today that explore the reality of coming of age and the struggles it entails.  By providing a film like Turning Red it allows individuals of all ages to connect to the characters on a deeper level and tap into their personal self. The way Disney portrays coming of age in this film is not only relatable and critical but also very interesting in the way the plot prevails. The aspects of Mei are very relatable to younger individuals and her personal importance of her friendships is something lots of people hold great value to. Mei and her best friends are also obsessed with a boy band that goes by 4Town and this is something many people can find connected to being that at one point we were all likely captivated by a favorite boy band or artist like One Direction or Justin Bieber. To continue, Mei also has a crush on a guy named Devon, her shy atmosphere and awkward tendencies around him is something a lot of young girls and boys can relate to especially during this time of age. Crushing on someone is something everyone experiences especially at a pre – teen to teen age, and by seeing this between Mei and Devon it opens the audience’s mind to see that it’s okay to be shy and awkward in situations like these and it’s not always going to go as planned. There are so many aspects of the film, Turning Red , that are more than relatable for the audience, this is significant because it creates a connection between the viewers and the characters and in turn makes the film interesting and eager to watch. On another note, people of Chinese heritage can connect even deeper to the film due to the many aspects of Chinese culture throughout the movie, from the temple Mei’s family maintains, prevalent cultural differences, traditional Chinese gourmets, and so much more. It is so greatly important for different cultures to be shown and appreciated throughout movies, especially films targeted to more of a younger audience in order for children/people of the same heritage to connect to the film or for people not of a particular culture to gain appreciation and knowledge of different cultures/diversity. 

Alarmingly, there has been some backlash from critics regarding the film Turning Red, these people believe that the subject of puberty is too mature for younger ages and that Mei’s willful nature is setting a bad example for the audience. These claims are simply deceitful being that puberty is a natural process in which everyone goes through, and is a matter that should not be looked down upon or seen as “too mature” being that it is simply a normal transition in which everyone experiences. Puberty is a process that everyone should know about despite age because everyone inevitably will undergo puberty. The film Turning Red discusses and develops the idea of puberty in an extremely appropriate manner in which members of the audience are able to gain knowledge and see that they are not alone through the natural process of puberty. In no way is the involvement of puberty in the film inappropriate or “too mature” for any age group. While Mei is experiencing the new changes in herself like strong emotions and physical changes due to puberty, she is extremely strong willed and is ready to start living her life in a way in which she desires. This behavior is more than normal in adolescents especially while going through such an adjustment like puberty and it should not be looked down upon or seen as acting disobedient or in a way to set a bad example for others. The behavior Mei portrays is how most individuals develop through puberty and not only is it normal but also an extremely positive example of maturation. These actions also exploit growth in which individuals further their personal development and decide what they want to do for themselves. The way in which Disney develops the concept of puberty during the film Turning Red is more than appropriate and very informing and entertaining for all. 

Clearly, the new Disney production Turning Red is an absolute must watch and a film that explores the reality of coming of age while also tapping into Chinese culture in an amazing, informative way. Go watch Disney’s Turning Red.