‘Turning Red’ highlights complexities of early teen years


To start, if a movie is a Disney Pixar movie, I’m expecting it to be good. Disney Pixar is my childhood, and my classic favorites include Toy Story, Up, The Incredibles and Cars, but I loved Domee Shi’s Turning Red for a different reason. 

Turning Red follows the story of Mei Lee (voiced by Rosalie Chiang), a 13-year-old Chinese-Canadian girl navigating the delicate balance between being a dutiful daughter and a spirited young teen seeking independence. Trying to live these two lives leads to a lot of stress, which is exacerbated when Mei turns into a giant red panda; every time her emotions are strong, the bustling red beast comes out.

I loved how real this film was. Obviously, we don’t turn into giant pandas when we are stressed, but we do all face the difficulties of change and the challenges as a result. Turning Red uses this metaphor to speak specifically to the emotion and stress of puberty as well as the cultural pressure to please one’s parents. Mei is discovering teenage boys, loud music and both combined: boy bands. Turning Red doesn’t shy away from showing the reality of puberty, and confronting it head-on in a hilarious way; it normalizes the awkwardness of early adolescence. 

The film is truly funny, I found myself laughing a lot more than in a typical Disney movie. Whether it was the obsession over the made-up boyband “4*Town”, a product of Finneas and Billie Eilish’s musical genius or the scene where Mei’s mother Ming Lee (voiced by Sandra Oh) brings sanitary pads to Mei’s school, the film was light-hearted despite discussing some deeper topics. 

Director Domee Shi is best known for Bao, the Oscar-winning animated Pixar short about a magical steamed bun that comes to life. Turning Red makes history as Shi becomes the first woman to solo-direct a feature Pixar film.

Disney/Pixar has been striving for better representation with Soul’s 2020 October release, Encanto’s 2021 November release and now Turning Red. It’s evident Disney is trying to put out films that feature diverse characters and stories. 

Overall, I appreciate the Asian representation, beautiful storytelling and hope to see more of Domee Shi’s creativity in the world of Pixar.Turning Red is a great look into what the future of Disney/Pixar films can and hopefully will be.

Turning Red is available on Disney+.