Movie Review: Pixar’s Turning Red

Pixar presents a film causing panda-monium

Audrey White, Sandscript Author


Tween years. We’ve all been there, and while it isn’t a fun experience, Pixar manages to bring it to light in the company’s latest coming-of-age film, Turning Red. The story features a 13 year-old Chinese-Canadian girl, Meilin “Mei” Lee, who is faced with an ongoing struggle between her loyalties to her family and to her friends- all while managing her sporadic transformations into a giant red panda. 

I genuinely have mixed feelings about Turning Red. The animation and graphics were aesthetically pleasing and supported the film’s compelling aspects, however, there were a few pieces of the film that curtailed my enjoyment.

Turning Red takes place in Toronto- I have not seen many films that use Toronto as the setting but it was refreshing to see a multicultural city that is rarely portrayed in the media. More specifically, Mei lives in Chinatown with her parents where her family runs one of the city’s oldest temples. I thought the use of blending Mei’s heritage and family into her life in the city was well done and displayed a realistic balance between the two.

I thought that Turning Red did a fantastic job with representation. I have never seen a film where the characters have varied body types, belong to different cultures, and have added details- a schoolgirl had an insulin patch on her arm. These seemingly miniscule elements account for the authenticity of how people actually are.

Many viewers also equate the title, Turning Red, with a female’s menstrual cycle. There is light mention of this in the film. I believe that by normalizing menstrual cycles in the media in slight ways as done in Turning Red, it can allow for young girls to lessen their embarrassment that they may feel during puberty. I admired the boldness of the writers and producers for adding in this detail as well, as it is something that entertainment forms often shy away from.

Contrarily, Turning Red has been the source of controversy. With certain themes present, many parents have grown angry with Pixar’s film. Parents were bothered by Mei openly defying her parents, in addition to sneaking out of her window. However, other views offered the perspective of other Disney and Pixar related films such as Brave, where Merida and her mother also develop their relationship through a series of obedience and loyalties.

In the beginning of Turning Red, Mei expresses to the viewers that she is 13, which in her mind is the age she officially becomes an adult. While her belief is vain, it supports the story’s progression of Mei’s journey into growing up through changes in her life that lead her to the realizations of self-discovery.

While I watched the movie, I thought it was a simple, cute film. However, some scenes left me scratching my head, wondering about the film’s morality basis. For instance, in one scene, Mei and her friends exploit Mei’s red panda form by having her schoolmates pay to take photos of her so Mei and her friends can pay for tickets to see their favorite boy band, 4*Town. Also, I found it bothersome that Mei drew pictures of her with a boy named Devon that works at their local convenience store, Daisy Mart. One of the following scenes depicted one of Mei’s drawings of Devon as a merman as being alive and gasping for air because he was out of water. I found the scene to be cringey and unnecessary due to the series of events that led to Mei’s mother, Ming Lee, discovering Mei’s notebook and drawings- at which point Ming rushes down to the Daisy Mart and reveals the drawings to Devon. I thought that the scene where Devon became the merman in a dream sequence was honestly disturbing and questionable. Additionally, in one scene, Mei twerks in the direction of her mother. For a children’s movie, I found it to be too suggestive- especially when taking into consideration the mild inappropriate language.

The targeted audience for Turning Red is suited mainly for tween and teenage girls. This film may not be as widely received or understood by younger children because the content, setting of the early 2000s, and dialogue material is generally fit for older children. 

Turning Red was a film that allowed me to gain insight into aspects of maturity and childhood. While I found flaws within its framework, Turning Red is a film about growing up and expressing oneself, and emotional development. I would rate Turning Red as 3 stars out of 5. I admired the breakthroughs this movie presented, but I understand the side of controversy surrounding this film with questions of what is acceptable for a children’s movie.