If growing up isn’t hard enough, turning into a red panda at thirteen is no picnic. Turning Red is a new Pixar/Disney film that presents a new spin on teenage angst. Just when a young girl thought life solely consisted of hanging out with her best friends, drooling over crushes, and getting good grades – things take a turn.
Set in Toronto in the early 2000s, Turning Red follows thirteen-year-old Chinese-Canadian Meilin “Mei” Lee as she tries to find a balance between being an obedient daughter and a fun-loving, independent teenager. Mei Lee gets straight A’s, helps her mother at their family temple, and has incredible best friends. Life wasn’t too shabby for this eighth grader until things got red and furry.
The mystical red panda
Mei is close to her overprotective and overbearing mother, Ming, and will do anything for her approval. Although, there are some things she feels like she can’t share with her mother. Ming gets a hold of Mei’s special notebook full of private and embarrassing sketches and let’s just say things begin to go downhill.
After experiencing a rollercoaster of emotions, the teen wakes up the following day shocked to realize that a giant red panda is staring back at her in the mirror. So naturally, Mei freaks out and does her best to hide her new appearance from her mother.
Initially, Mei’s mother thinks her daughter’s “red flower” has bloomed (aka her first period) and tries to explain bodily changes. Yet, her daughter undergoes a much more significant transformation unknown to Ming.
Her transformation takes place anytime she gets overly excited, angry, or anxious – which, for a teenager, is pretty often! Mei tries to remain calm and control her emotions, but some things are easier said than done. Once Ming sees that her daughter has turned into a giant red panda, she realizes it’s time to teach Mei about her ancestor’s historical and mystical connection to the species.
Exploring generational family dynamics
At the heart of Turning Red is the relationship between Mei & her mother, Ming. The two are inseparable, but the film shows how distant Mei starts to feel from her mom as puberty & adolescence set in.
In an interview with Collider, director Domee Shi explained how Turning Red will “subvert people’s expectations” when they watch it for the first time. “I’m most excited about surprising people. I think people are gonna go in with this expectation of, ‘Oh, it’s just gonna be a cute movie about this cute teenage girl that turns into a cute panda,’ but then we’re gonna surprise them.”
Turning Red explores a metaphor for generational trauma and the rifts between mothers & daughters. Ming is overprotective and overbearing toward Mei because of the strained relationship with her own mother, who disapproved of her marriage to her husband, Jin.
Just as the magical ability to turn into a red panda is passed down from parent to child, generation after generation, so are the effects of childhood. Mei ultimately breaks the cycle of trauma because she is able to be true to herself.
Mei fully embraces herself and accepts that her changing relationship with her mom isn’t a bad thing, it just takes some adjusting. Going through puberty’s growing pains is never easy, but neither is navigating the nuances of family, culture, and friends.
Domee Shi’s screenplay with Julia Cho is bursting with energy, heart, and nostalgia. Turning Red is exclusively available to stream on Disney Plus, which costs $7.99 per https://filmdaily.co/obsessions/watch-turning-red-online-free-yts/month or $79.99 per year. You can also find Disney Plus as part of The Disney Bundle, which includes Hulu, Disney Plus & ESPN Plus for $13.99 per month.