‘Turning Red’


Photo Courtesy of Disney Movies

After the release of award-winning films such as Luca and Encanto, Disney and Pixar delivers again in Turning Red, where puberty’s emotional turmoil manifests as a giant red panda.

The 2022 Pixar film Turning Red produced by Lindsey Collins and directed by Domee Shi (director of the short film Bao) debuted on Disney+ March 11th. As of March 14th, it has grossed $4 million in the box office.

Turning Red is a coming-of-age tale about a 13-year old Meilin (Mei) Lee who discovers that she turns into a red panda whenever she experiences any strong emotion. Like Encanto, the focus of this film is on family and the effects of generational trauma. Mei (Rosalie Chang) and all the women from her mother’s side are able to turn into red pandas due to a gift passed down from their ancestor Sun Yee. However, they choose to cage their red panda spirit due to its inconvenience in the modern world. Mei, already torn between honoring her mother and herself, must struggle through the dilemma her panda causes, as well.

 The film is set in Toronto, Canada in 2002 and the setting flourishes even in the small details, such as Mei’s tamagotchi-style pet and her obsession with the fictional boy band 4*Town. At the climax of the film, 4*Town harmonizes their song Nobody Like U— written by Billie Eilish and Finneas O’Connell— with the Cantonese chants of her grandmother and aunts.

Throughout her panda-dilemma, Mei has the support of her three best friends— supportive Miriam (Ava Morse), who advocates for Mei to prioritize herself, mellow Priya (Maitreyi Ramakrishnan), who reads Twilight-esque novels in her first appearance, and vibrant Abby (Hyein Park), whose consistent high energy adds an extra layer of humor.

Mei’s mother, Ming Lee (Sandra Oh) wants what is best for her daughter. She encourages her to work hard, supports her academic endeavors, and seems to foster a great relationship with her daughter overall. But Ming is also overbearing, and pushes Mei to focus on “curing” her panda and prepare to contain it like she did. It is evident that the effects of Ming’s panda haunt her, especially when her own mother, Wu (Wai Ching Ho) comes to visit in preparation for Mei ridding herself of the panda.

Turning Red touches on the awkwardness of adolescence, with scenes such as Mei drawing her crush all over her notebook, or when her mother approaches her with pads, thinking her freakout is due to the start of her period. But it also touches on deeper issues, such as accepting that your mother is a result of the same generational trauma that shaped you. 

Turning Red is a coming-of-age film for everyone, and like Luca and Encanto, it hits close to home. Whether it’s a story about sea monsters, a fantastical house full of magical people, or a teenage girl, Disney and Pixar always manage to strike a chord with their audience.