Turning Red: Is It Okay To Be Different?

Yash Varma ’24


Pixar Studio’s Turning Red (2022) captures the exaggerated swagger of a Chinese tween in early 2000s Toronto. It is Pixar Studio’s newest instalment and has been well-received by critics and ethnically underrepresented minorities alike. However, does it really live up to the excitement, or has Pixar dropped the ball on their direct-to-streaming release?

The movie centres around a second-generation Chinese immigrant named Meilin “Mei” Lee, who lives with her parents in Toronto. Mei is a high-achieving and loyal child who goes out of her way just to make her parents proud. Her ancestor is Sun Yee, a great warrior who had good relations with the sacred red pandas, so much so that Yee was granted the gift of being able to turn into one. This ability has been passed
down for generations, which is described in the film as a “minor inconvenience.” Mei then involuntarily transforms into a large red panda. Any strong emotional reaction triggers this transformation.

I remember watching Cars (2006) for the first time. I was amused by the intensity of the film, and how Lightning McQueen turned from a conceited individual into a loving, open to growth, intellectually competent character. Looking back, what was so fascinating about the film was not just the story, but the fact that motorized vehicles with eyes on their windshields could yield such a meaningful message to a younger audience.

I learned that a good story is something that can take place in any setting, but still convey a real-world message. George Lucas’s Star Wars, a film which tells a grounded story despite taking place in its fantastical sci-fi world, accomplishes this message.

This revelation sparks the question – does Turning Red meet this standard? No, not quite. However, there is more to the film than that. I have seen many people comment on how relatable the film is, especially culturally. I agree with this. It is funny seeing the Indian security guard on the school grounds, as well as to see the awkward and dorky character of Mei in myself, and how both our Asian heritage and Canadian nationality influence our personality.

At times, the film felt like it tries to be different; the film shoves the fact that the main character is Chinese, and that the plot takes place in Toronto, a little too far in your throat. After watching the movie for the first time, I was conflicted—confused by just how strange the film is. However, after watching it a second time to finalize my thoughts, I discovered that this film does share some similarities to Cars in its own manner. Instead of focusing on the unimaginable, it shines light on the typical, everyday life of an individual who many people can relate to but do so in a fantastical fashion.

Here is the verdict: Turning Red is a unique spin on the Pixar movies that we know today, and it attacks the awkwardness of puberty and the parent-child relationship in an original way. However, the movie itself can feel underdeveloped, and abstract. Nonetheless, I thoroughly enjoyed watching it, and I encourage you—dear reader—to watch it. You can stream Turning Red exclusively on Disney+.


Photo Credit: Yash Varma

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