Turning Red movie
Mei and her friends enjoying the animated Toronto skyline. Image: Disney & Pixar/Courtesy
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Movie explores more mature topics than seen in past Disney and Pixar animation films

Turning Red portrays the life of Meilin Lee, a thirteen-year-old Chinese girl in Toronto, finding her way through pre-adolescence. The coming of age movie sparked controversy in the media due to its depiction of more mature topics than seen in past Disney and Pixar animation movies, such as puberty, periods and the introduction of crushes.

When she reaches puberty, Meilin (Mei) takes a step away from her sheltered upbringing and takes an interest in boys and sexual attraction, spending more time with her friends and gravitating away from previous interests. New interests trigger new behaviours in the young adolescent, who is anxious to meet her mother’s expectations. 

These behaviours take the form of Mei lying to her parents about her after-school activities and prioritizing activities related to the 4*TOWN boy band over her temple obligations and family time. 

Turning Red is an allegory for puberty and periods. Mei inherits the ability to turn into a red panda when she experiences intense emotions, which can be perceived as hormones. When experiencing these emotions, Mei visualizes a comfort zone to calm her down — being surrounded by her friends. Through this, young children are exposed to mechanisms on how to cope with the overwhelming hormones that accompany puberty.

Controversial topics are primarily explored through Mei’s first period. This has led viewers to resort to social media to express their dissatisfaction with the film’s menstrual storyline, which they believe is too advanced for PG viewers, despite the fact that the average female begins her period at age 12. While exposure to women’s puberty, periods, and pads are unfamiliar to young children, Disney and Pixar’s approach to these concepts brings a sense of belonging to young teen girls.

Through Mei’s independence, she struggles to honour herself while honouring her parents and her Asian heritage. The movie explores Mei’s struggle to balance her own cultural heritage with the expectations of the dominant cultural teenage norms, giving the ultimate message that it is important to embrace every part of yourself. 

This 2022 film makes young teenage girls, particularly Asian-Canadian girls feel heard. Despite the controversy, audiences are ready for more diverse adolescent stories. Turning Red concludes as Mei decides to keep her red panda, rather than detaching herself from it. 

For a young audience, Disney and Pixar offer the following message: it is important to learn to embrace all parts of yourself, especially the weird ones.