Turning Red: A Powerful Film about What it Means to be Yourself

(Collider.com)

Staff Writer: Roxanne Hepburn

Email: rhepburn@umassd.edu

There has been a demand for diverse representation in media for as long as it has been in existence. And on March 11th, 2022, Disney Pixar released their latest film, “Turning Red,” both in theaters and on their streaming service Disney+ to supply that demand. 

“Turning Red” takes place in 2002 and features a 13-year-old Chinese-Canadian girl named Mei who lives in Toronto with her mother and father in their ancestral family shrine. Mei is seen as a “mama’s girl” who gets good grades, loves her family, and loves helping to maintain the family shrine every day after school, even at the cost of her after-school social life with her friends.

On the way home from school one day, Mei’s friends stop to swoon over the hot older teenage boy store clerk at the local convenience store while she acts as if she is above the concept of crushes. Mei then rushes home to the shrine to the dismay of her friends. 

But Mei has a realization. She has a crush on the “sexy” store clerk and proceeds to doodle them together in silly and romantic positions as any love-sick teenager would. Her overprotective mother finds the drawings and assumes much worse, rushing to the convenience store to yell at the innocent boy and accidentally embarrassing her daughter in front of a large group of her classmates.

When Mei wakes up the next day after the onslaught of intense emotions, she walks into the bathroom, looks in the mirror, and realizes that she has turned into a massive walking red panda. After some antics, Mei’s mother reveals that it is a family curse meant as a blessing from their ancestor, and the more times she transforms from experiencing strong emotions, the harder it will be to seal the curse away so that she can be “normal” again. 

In the end, Mei chooses not to go through with the ritual and embraces her inner panda. She becomes the first in the family to accept that side rather than seal it away. The soul of the red panda stands as a strong metaphor for emotions. Mei embracing her panda symbolizes her embracing emotions, choosing to feel rather than repress them. She decided not to allow the bad of emotions to outweigh the good, becoming aware of her feelings’ effects on other people. 

One main concern I and many others had going into this film was the common trope Disney has embraced where people of color are frequently trapped into the bodies of non-humans for a significant chunk of the movie, essentially dehumanizing them. But, it is different with “Turning Red.” The transformation into a red panda is both culturally significant and at will (once Mei gets a semblance of control over it). Rather than dehumanizing Mei, the red panda acts as a strong metaphor for when she is experiencing difficult emotions.

It is also vital to acknowledge the director, Domee Shi, when discussing the diversity surrounding “Turning Red.” Domee Shi is Chinese-Candian and became the first woman to direct a short film for Pixar with Bao in 2018, which won an Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film at the 91st Academy Awards.

“Turing Red” is all about resilience through both good and bad emotions; it is a fantastic movie that allows both kids and parents alike to see that all strong emotions are good for you in the long run when you work through how they affect your actions. And if you are to take one message from the film, it is to be yourself. 

Click here for a link to the official trailer on Youtube.

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