‘Turning Red:’ Disney turns to representation



“Turning Red” released exclusively on DIsney+ on March 11, 2021.

Disney Pixar’s newest feature film, “Turning Red,” premiered on Friday, March 11 exclusively on Disney+ to what feels like minimal media buzz. While this is expected, as the movie did not hit theaters, I feel that the lack of talk is a huge insult to the themes and story portrayed. Rarely do I finish a movie genuinely impressed by a story, but “Turning Red” thoroughly surprised and pleased me.

Set in 2002 Toronto Canada, the film follows eighth grader Meilin Lee and her friends as she undergoes significant personal soul searching and transformations in a hyperbolized version of what all kids experience when maturing. Mei’s family takes care of a shrine in devotion to their ancestor Sun Yee, who was said to have a mystical connection to red pandas. Once Mei turns 13, she experiences a transformation into one of these humanoid red pandas and must fight to free herself from the transformation.

One of the most critical points in the theming of the movie is that of generational trauma, as the red panda curse has been plaguing the women of the Lee family for generations. This has caused Mei’s mother to be very protective of her, as the household forces a straight-A clean cut student lifestyle with absolutely no room for exceptions. Due to this lifelong restrictiveness, Mei is forced to meditate on how she is treated and must make up her own mind on who she is and how she would like to live.

The message that Mei’s journey says to me is that no one’s opinion or expectation should matter more than your own. Self expression is extremely tough to grab by the horns and roll with, but seeing Mei and her dorky friends jam out to the parody of early 2000’s boy bands “4*Town” helps me to realize that things that make you happy should not be ignored. It cannot be denied that Mei and her friends’ lives are better for their musical admiration.

Another point of note in “Turning Red” is its ability to convey story through music. The score of “Turning Red” constantly had me emotionally invested in its scenes, and I felt it perfectly emulated that early 2000’s energy that I was born in.

Finally, the representation presented in this movie had me smiling throughout its entire run time. Featuring a Chinese-Canadian main character and a majority female supporting cast, the film can do wonders for the younger generation feeling represented and understood in the movies that they watch, which until recently is something Disney has been lacking in their catalog of movie successes. This may seem small to some, but to many it can make a huge difference in feeling welcomed and comfortable in the world.

In my opinion, Pixar has been on a hot streak with its last few movies to grace the streaming realm of entertainment. “Turning Red” is yet another success that I feel should become a household name to echo the likes of “Toy Story” and “Monsters Inc.” from my childhood.