I like boys, I like loud music, I like gyrating. I’m thirteen.
Set in Toronto, Disney and Pixar’s Turning Red follows thirteen year old Meilin Lee (Rosalie Chiang) as she deals with the parental pressures, and her fluctuating emotions that turn her into a giant red Panda.
The opening scene is quick, a little chaotic, and introduces charismatic Meilin, and her best friends, Abby (Hyein Park), Miriam (Ava Morse), and Priya (Maitreyi Ramakrishnan), within seconds. This scene sets the tone for the rest of the film. As in all fictional friendship groups, each one is starkly different from the other, but they all have common interests – in this case it’s their love for boy band, 4*Town.
Turning Red doesn’t tell us anything we don’t already know about teenagers: they have extreme crushes, they’re hormonal, they lie to their parents when they think it’s necessary, they burst into song at random moments, and they can be really hard on themselves and each other. Throughout the film, writer, producer and director, Domee Shi, explores these ideas in a way that feels new, and is obviously necessary. Especially with some of the backlash Turning Red has received for not sugar-coating the realities of puberty.
At a few points I felt genuinely sad watching Mei struggle to deal with her emotions, and physically trying to get rid of the Panda even when it hurt to do so. I also found her mum, Ming Lee’s (Sandra Oh) parenting difficult to watch – she is overprotective to the point that it blinds her from who Mei is becoming, she constantly violates Mei’s privacy and doesn’t listen – so much so that it’s Mei’s friends that can help keep the Panda in not her parents. Of course, this seems to be the only way Ming knows how to express her love, and she is only parenting in the same way she was brought up, but eventually the pattern needs to be broken.
The only other issue I had with the film was the uselessness of Mei’s dad, Jin Lee (Orion Lee.) I thought he was really sweet but honestly served little to no purpose. When he finally decided to step up, and feebly offer Mei some advice, it was almost too late – and even then he didn’t give her any proper direction. I understand that Jin may have been hidden in the shadow of his wife, but I felt he could have done more to help Mei, and ease Ming’s fears to create a balance in parenting.
I also felt that, since going to the 4*Town concert was the main objective for Mei and her friends, more could have been done with the music from them as opposed to just mainly playing one song throughout. But, it was a nice touch to have the ‘forbidden music’ be one of the things that saves the day in the end.
The animation itself is beautiful, bright, and dynamic. Even though it’s set in a city, the animators did really well to make it look magical. The stars in the characters’ eyes, the colouring of the convenience store, the artistic cooking scene, the depiction of the temple, the glamorous assembly of the aunties.
And specifically this shot of the Toronto skyline that is reminiscent of the Northern Lights.
The film was enjoyable and entertaining, but there were points when I felt like I was waiting for it to finish. There was a lack of suspense, and the ending was almost inevitable.
Overall, Turning Red is a refreshing, and accurate depiction of how messy being a teenager can be, and is. It explores the danger of parents placing unattainable expectations on their children, and highlights that the people you may expect to help you aren’t always the ones that understand you enough to be able to. I’m sure many viewers, young and old, are able to see themselves and their childhood in Mei’s – hopefully it provides some sort of catharsis to see it represented on screen. And hopefully parents that are guilty of possessing the damaging generational attitudes will see themselves too.