‘Turning Red’ is turning heads



Protagonist Mei Lee embraces her mother Ming Lee as she partially transforms into her red panda form. Since the films Feb release, it has collected $11,100,000 through the international box office.

Told through the perspective of Meilin Lee (Rosalie Chiang), a thirteen year old Chinese Canadian, this story delves into her coming of age journey as she sets the stage for this fast-paced family comedy.

The audience becomes aware from the start, that they’re about to witness a story about change, acceptance, and new beginnings. As Mei begins to narrate, she tells us that as she turned thirteen, she is at the stage where she is ready to do things independently and for herself. In her words, Mei describes the importance of “honoring herself” rather than just “honoring her parents.”

She wants to be able to do things on her own and be her own person. She goes through puberty and learns how to navigate her life through the help of her friends. Up until now, Mei’s worked hard to become the perfect daughter for her parents. Everything begins to crumble when she turns into a giant red panda.

Unlike many other Disney or Pixar movies, “Turning Red” does not shy away from language and topics specific to the demographic of the main characters. Using words such as “sexy” and “pads” one can understand that this film has a more realistic tone. It is common for children’s movies to withdraw from teenage topics such as periods, but this movie does not.

They not only bring up such issues in the show, but discuss them as well. These concepts are shown through conversations between Meilin and her mother, Ming. They explore these issues together throughout the movie. When she first transforms into a red panda and is struggling with the changes in her body, her mother assumes she is beginning puberty and is prepared to have a talk with her daughter. She starts by asking her if she started her period by using a code phrase, “did the red peony bloom?” This topic, which most people view as shameful or taboo, is addressed whole-heartedly and brought up in a positive manner.

After years of seeing the same story being told about a teenage girl facing hardships and then learning to overcome them, this film takes a slight turn away from this trope. While that same formula is used as a template for most movies with female leads, “Turning Red” focuses on other topics such as generational trauma.

It is discovered that the red panda is passed down to the Lee women. In a descriptive heart-to-heart, Ming explains to Mei that this transformation has been a crucial part in their family’s history which had been created by their ancestor, Sun Yee. Her mother tells her, “what was a blessing became an inconvenience.” Learning to overcome this curse and holding onto the connection between mother and daughter is an issue that this family has continuously had to face.

For a film made in 2022, there was an exciting amount of diversity in both the movie and the voice cast, with characters such as Priya voiced by Maiyetri Ramakrishnan, who is South Indian, and Abby Park, who is voiced by Hyein Park, a Korean.

Even the side characters came from a variety of backgrounds. With notable appearances from hijabi women, a Sikh man, and many more people of color. Although this movie primarily focuses on the perspective of a Chinese girl, almost everyone watching can feel represented by a character in this story to some degree.

One thing this animation studio has consistently done well, is the idea of female empowerment amongst movies with women as the leads such as “Moana” and “Encanto.” “Turning Red” does a phenomenal job in exploring the celebration of femininity. The story consists of primarily women as the main characters all of whom work together rather than tear each other apart. There is a clear and positive message about the strength in the feminine power in this film.

While some reviews have been negative and argue that this movie is “boring” and “distasteful,” it’s important to note who is saying this. Many white male reviewers seem to be against the positive and accurate depiction of teenage girls. This movie represented a realistic representation of girls, women, puberty, and culture. This film is a must see with your family, it is well worth your time. I strongly encourage everyone to go watch it on Disney+.