Generational Trauma Is The New Bad Guy
The first time I saw a teaser for this film I came away completely clueless about the plot and if I’m being honest the non-contextualised scene I viewed did not initially entice me into watching. So I was truly not prepared for what awaited me in the following 1 hour 40 minute run time. From the director of Pixar short Bao (2018) Domee Shi, Turning Red is a delightfully charming yet unapologetic film that delves into issues not often explored by mainstream animation.
Meilin is a 13-year-old girl entering puberty with a serious boyband crush and a potentially life-ruining ability to turn into a giant red panda. The ties between the physical transformation into the panda and the hormone fuelled phase of puberty is a genius correlation that also leads to some humorous double meaning jokes. Ultimately the panda is a way of exploring not only the increase of societal pressures placed on young girls as they grow but the familial pressures experienced simultaneously that manifest into teenage angst and poor decision making. The cultural aspects of Meilin’s Chinese upbringing are also an integral part of the story. As a white woman, I feel I cannot comment on the accuracy of its portrayal, but it is such a refreshing and welcomed departure from the typical coming of age setting we normally get in films that broach similar subject matter.
The animation is flavourful and packed with energy. Being a Pixar film it has become expected to see beautiful animation but not only is Turning Red beautiful but it is full of personality. Most of the humour for me came in the form of visual animation gags and my partner can attest to my open guffaws, particularly during the explosive opening sequence. Unlike the 2022 Oscars would you believe this film is most certainly not just for kids. In fact, it tells such a complete and relatable tale of growing up as a 13-year-old girl that many adults will find themselves physically responding to many of the aspects of the story by laughing and cringing like myself. On top of this, the film is set in the early 2000s harking back to the director’s own early teenage years so it is absolutely filled with nostalgia from mix CDs to Tamogotchis.
Speaking of cringe it would be remiss of me not to mention the biggest criticism of this film, that it is apparently too cringey and unrelatable as a story about a young Asian girl. We have finally gotten a film that reflects the type of stories that people who campaign for equality in the industry have been asking for. A story about women, by women. The script written by Julia Cho and Domee Shi reflects an accurate experience, not a fabrication or a palatable illusion. It’s also not trying too hard with its feminism except perhaps a line Mei shouts to her mother towards the end “my panda, my choice.” The men are not villains, in fact, the true antagonist of the story seems to be puberty coupled with a flavouring of intergenerational trauma. Those who do not think that this story cannot be enjoyed by anyone other than those who mirror the appearance of those who made it are ignorant at best.
I do want to quickly mention another film in this review that I believe began the journey that has gifted us Turning Red and that film is Brave. As I reflect on Brave it is becoming apparent that it was a movie clearly ahead of its time. Like Turning Red, it focused on a relationship between a mother and daughter and funnily enough also included animal transformation. Brenda Chapman was subsequently kicked off her own project when she and the studio’s visions didn’t align (For the full breakdown watch documentary Half The Picture). Yet here we are ten years later with the first solo female-directed animation from Pixar dealing with family pressures and large fluffy mammals. Merida walked so Meilin could fly, oh my, oh my.
Pixar has truly taken the right steps with this film and despite what a selection of critics would have you believe I would encourage more people to watch it because Turning Red is the type of story we need to keep seeing more of. And no I don’t mean more stories about girls turning into red pandas, but just authentic explorations of issues that affect real people.
Turning Red is Available to Stream on Disney+