The Film ‘turning Red’ Has Sparked a Discussion Regarding Cinema Criticism’s Double Standards

Turning Red is a 2022 American animated coming-of-age fantasy comedy film developed and distributed by Pixar Animation Studios. Domee Shi directed it in her feature directorial debut, while Shi and Julia Cho co-wrote it. Rosalie Chiang, Sandra Oh, Ava Morse, Hyein Park, Maitreyi Ramakrishnan, Orion Lee, Wai Ching Ho, Tristan Allerick Chen, and James Hong lend their voices to the film.

Turning Red is set in 2002 in Toronto, Ontario, and follows Meilin “Mei” Lee, a 13-year-old Chinese-Canadian girl who transforms into a gigantic red panda when she experiences intense emotion. Shi's experiences in Toronto inspired the film, which began development in 2018 following her October 2017 pitch to Pixar. It is the first Pixar picture directed entirely by a woman and the second to feature an Asian lead character after Up (2009).

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Special screenings took place in London on February 21, 2022 at Everyman Borough Yards and in Toronto on March 8, 2022 at TIFF. Turning Red had its world premiere on March 1 and was released on Disney+ on March 11, alongside simultaneous limited engagements at the El Capitan Theatre, AMC Empire 25, and Grand Lake Theatre in the United States, and Showcase Cinema de Lux in the United Kingdom. It was released theatrically in the majority of countries prior to the launch of Disney+ and gained critical acclaim for its storey, humour, animation, vocal performances, and cultural appropriation.

turning red

Plot

Meilin “Mei” Lee is a thirteen-year-old Chinese-Canadian girl who lives in Toronto, Canada, in 2002. Mei assists in the maintenance of the Lee family's temple dedicated to their ancestor, Sun Yee, and attempts to earn the respect of her severe, overprotective mother, Ming Lee. She tries to conceal her personal hobbies from Ming, such as her boy crushes and the fact that she and her best pals Miriam, Priya, and Abby are 4*Town fans.

Ming accidentally humiliates Mei in front of several classmates, including Tyler, a school bully, resulting in Mei having a nightmare. The following morning, Mei awakens to discover that she has been changed into a colossal red panda. Mei realises after concealing from her parents that she transforms only during times of intense emotion; her parents believe her distress is caused by her first period. Ming later discovers the truth when she embarrasses Mei at school, prompting her to shift once more.

Ming and Jin, Mei's father, explain that Sun Yee was endowed with the ability to transform into a red panda in order to protect her daughters, and that every female member of the family has inherited the talent as they reach maturity.

This has grown cumbersome and hazardous, and thus the red panda spirit must be sealed in a talisman during a month-long rite on the night of the Red Moon. Mei's friends discover her shift accidently but seem to enjoy it, and Mei discovers that concentrating on them and breathing deeply keeps her from morphing. She convinces her parents to allow her to live a regular life, though Ming continues to monitor Mei.

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Ming refuses to allow Mei to attend a concert in Toronto as part of 4*Town's musical tour. Mei and her companions begin quietly fundraising for the tickets using her red panda form. Tyler hires Mei to perform at his birthday party in exchange for money.

Mei discovers at the party that the concert will take place on her ritual night. When Tyler criticises her about her family, she becomes enraged and strikes Tyler, frightening the other children. Ming becomes aware of Mei's recent activities and chastises her pals for allegedly corrupting and using her. Mei is unable to defend her friends because she is ashamed and terrified to confront her mother.

Turning Red Sparks Debate Over ‘inappropriate’ Scenes and Puberty Discourse

Turning Red is causing quite the stir as some deem the latest Pixar flick ‘inappropriate‘ for children.

Turning Red is the latest release from animation titans Pixar, hitting the Disney+ platform on March 11th, 2022.

The film follows Meilin “Mei” Lee, a 13-year-old Canadian-Chinese girl going through puberty. Directed by Domee Shi (known for her work on Pixar’s Oscar-winning short Bao), the movie largely takes from her own experiences going through adolescence. But what is it about the film that have had some viewers up in arms?

***SPOILER ALERT*** If you haven’t yet seen Turning Red, details of the film will be explored below.

WHAT IS IT ABOUT TURNING RED THAT HAS VIEWERS TALKING?

If you tuned into Turning Red thinking it is solely a movie about red pandas, then you might be in for a surprise. While that’s partially true, the red panda transformation serves as a metaphor for puberty.

Turning Red explores periods, puberty, and the emotional and physical changes that accompany one’s coming of age journey. Satellite issues such as Mei’s first crushes, friendship, and parental relationships during puberty are also raised.

Given this subject matter, some have deemed it as inappropriate for children. One Twitter user commented: “This movie was great and fun but Pixar made this film a little too inappropriate for kids but I get it, it’s about a 13 year old girl hitting puberty.”

turning red

Development

Domee Shi attends the Annecy International Animation Film Festival in Annecy, France, in 2018.
Domee Shi Shi, a writer, director, and producer, had just completed the Pixar short Bao in 2017 when she was approached to propose three concepts for a feature film to Pixar.

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Her conceptions were all centred on young girls coming of age, with the one that became Turning Red centering on a girl experiencing a “magical puberty” based on Shi's own personal experiences. According to Shi “Nobody has escaped. Everyone has been 13 and felt like they were transforming into a wild, hairy, hormonal beast, which I believe is why Pixar was pulled to it.”  On October 31, 2017, Shi presented Pixar with these proposals, including Turning Red.

According to Lindsey Collins, a Pixar producer who attended Shi's pitch meeting, the Pixar team was drawn to the Turning Red concept for a variety of reasons “It was so clear that Domee had a strong sense of who these two main characters were, that Mei and Ming were more distinct, special, and unique than any of the other ideas,” and that “she had this extremely personal experience with these two characters who were sort of reincarnations of her own life. That is the equivalent of a magical equation.”

How Old Is the Girl in Turning Red?

The vast majority of the film's audience seems to adore its main character, a 13-year-old Chinese Canadian girl named Mei, with her proud fannish hobbies and her loyal geek squad friends.

Well, it's all about how the film's protagonist, Meilin, or Mei Mei to her family, gets her period. Director Domee Shi and co-writer Julia Cho have come up with an apt metaphor to describe the discombobulating experience of becoming a teenager and the accompanying changes that happen to one's body

turning red

Story line

Mei Lee (Rosalie Chiang's voice) is a confident, goofy 13-year-old caught between becoming her mother's dutiful daughter and embracing the turmoil of adolescence. Ming (voice of Sandra Oh), her caring, if not slightly pushy mother, is seldom far from her daughter – an unhappy reality for the adolescent. And, as if the changes to her interests, relationships, and body weren't enough, anytime she becomes very excited (which is almost ALWAYS), she “poofs” into a big red panda.