Pixar’s new animated feature film, Turning Red, was launched worldwide on 11 March 2022. While it’s exclusive to Disney+ in other regions, we are lucky that it has been released in cinemas in South Africa. I watched it this week and thoroughly enjoyed it. Here are three reasons why adults will enjoy Turning Red.

1. The Story

Firstly, one has to appreciate the clever double entendre of the title of the film. Turning Red is a coming-of-age story that centres around a 13-year-old girl, who is desperately fighting for her mother’s approval while going through some bodily changes. The mother (Ming Lee – voiced by Sandra Oh) pushes for our protagonist (Meilin Lee AKA ‘Mei’) to be her best, in a comically overbearing way. While it is expected that teenagers go through extreme changes, particularly at the beginning of puberty, we soon discover, there are other elements at play as well.

When Mei experiences any extreme emotions, she turns into a big, red panda. Mei unsuccessfully tries to keep this new discovery a secret. In so doing, it leads to hilarious and cringey panic from her mother, who mistakes the situation as Mei having her first period.

While there has been uproar about Disney not so subtly alluding to periods in an animated kids movie, the film is not about that. It’s about learning the value of family and friends while becoming your own person. As Mei says in the opening monologue, one should honour their parents, but if you take it too far, you might forget to honour yourself.

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When Mei’s mom finds out the real reason of Mei’s changed behaviour, we learn of a family blessing/curse that transforms female members into red pandas when they are overcome with emotion. While this starts as an inconvenience, we soon discover that it can actually be a blessing. Mei starts defying her mother’s wishes and in so doing, starts becoming her own person. A more confident and well-rounded person.

The movie also highlights how adults carry around baggage, which heavily informs how they navigate life and influences their parenting style. The film demonstrates how embarrassing a parent who is not self-aware can be; especially when dealing with topics related to puberty. Managing new emotions and hormones can be a challenging experience and despite their best intentions, parents can make this transition even more difficult.

2. The Throwback for Parents

While the story is from the perspective of a teenager, there are, certainly, elements that adults can relate to. The references to the early 2000s create a sense of nostalgia. Tamagotchis and obsessions with boybands are noticeable themes that stand out. There were some references that weren’t of that time, however, these instances didn’t bother me as I understand the intention was probably to keep relevance for younger viewers.

I believe, this film was very much created to show the story from both sides. Tweens and teenagers can see Mei’s side, whereas parents can identify with Ming Lee (Meilin’s mother), who is trying to curate a life for her child that she believes is best.

The mother-daughter relationship takes centre stage in Turning Red, and it’s a theme that’s very close to the director’s heart. Domee Shi, who helmed Pixar’s 2018 Oscar®-winning short Bao, says that when she was asked why the little dumpling in the short was male, her response was—it turns out—prophetic. “I said it would take a whole feature to unpack the mother-daughter relationship,” says Shi. “It was actually a big motivating factor in my pitch for ‘Turning Red.’ It’s never black and white. At the beginning of the movie, Mei genuinely loves her relationship with her mom, but she’s being pulled in new directions—as everyone her age is. It’s a time of big changes.”

– Director, Domee Shi

I found the infatuation with boybands so of the period, where boybands were idolised, unlike any other period, in my opinion. This is a central focus of the movie, with Billie Eilish and her brother, PHINEAS, having co-written the music of the fictional pop boyband, 4*Town. The lyrics are fun and cheesy, which adults will appreciate as it’s characteristic of music from girl and boy pop groups of the era.

3. The Moral of the Story

The film is about honouring your parents’ wishes, while defining who you are as an individual. What I appreciated about the story, was how applicable it was to anyone. Even as an adult, the narrative forced me to think about why I behave the way I do. Sometimes it’s good to question what you do and why you do these things. We all have a ‘wild side’ in us – our real selves. It’s up to us to decide how much of this we ‘allow’ out, and how suppressing this can influence your life.

Closing Thoughts

Turning Red is a humorous family movie, that reiterates the importance of defining your own character as an adult. I found the story enjoyable and an important reminder to show our “messy side” from time to time, and not be held back by what is expected, by our families, or society. The pace, humour and anime influences drive the narrative in a fun and engaging way. If you’re a parent (especially a mother) who has a daughter entering puberty, I highly recommend this film.

Turning Red is available on Disney+, which is only coming to SA in June 2022. Cinemas need our support, so that actually works out great. Go see it on the big screen 😉

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References and Additional Reading