Pixar’s newest film “Turning Red” was released on March 11 on Disney+ and directed by Domee Shi who previously directed the short film “Bao.” Voiced by Rosalie Chang as Meilin “Mei” Lee and Sandra Oh as Ming Lee, the animated film explores the pains of growing up, generational trauma and boy bands.
“People have all kinds of sides to them,” said Meilin’s father Jin. “And some sides are messy. The point isn’t to push the bad stuff away. It’s to make room for it, live with it.”
The movie is set in Toronto, Canada in 2002 following Mei, a 13 year old Chinese Canadian girl. She helps with her family’s temple and is a straight-A student. Experiencing a crush on Devon, a 17 year old store clerk, leads to an incident with her mother confronting the boy and making a scene. Mei soon discovers she can turn into a red panda when undergoing high intense emotions. For what is mistaken by her parents to be experiencing her first period, they soon realize that Mei was turning into a red panda due to the generational blessing from her ancestor, Sun Lee.
The film felt like a love letter to preteen girls and to our middle school selves. While this film has cultural aspects and relations that appeal to the Asian community, as a whole it is a coming of age story that I believe all people can relate to. This is the first animated film I have ever seen that brings up menstruation, which I am glad is addressed because it can be a scary part of growing up and entering a new stage in a young person’s life.
While the movie was set in the early 2000s, I found it quite interesting to think about what it could have been like being a preteen when technology and social media were not quite as prominent as it is today. As for the boy bands, CDs, and Mei and her friends going through a boy band phase, the movie brought me much nostalgia and cringes.
The red panda aspect and Mei feeling pressure from her family felt realistic with an added sense of magic realism in it. Throughout the movie, magic elements are a natural part of the realistic environment. This is of course a Pixar movie, but I was touched by the part where Mei is guiding her mother through the bamboo forest in the different stages of her life. In a way, this scene of the movie was overcoming the generational trauma of perfection together and in my hopes for them to heal too. For those who do not know, people of Asian descent undergo the pressure of making their family proud, pressures on getting good grades and schooling, and showing no signs of struggling which in a sense is being perfect.
I can understand why many people probably could not relate to this film as it seems the target audience was those of Asian descent and young preteen girls. But I hope you find the movie quite funny and enjoyable as I found it.