Cover A movie still from 'Turning Red' / Disney, Pixar

Those awkward teenage years take a rather . . . furry . . . turn of events in Disney and Pixar's latest movie, 'Turning Red'. Here's what we love about their latest feature film

We all remember our awkward teenage years. The growing pains that came with turning twelve, thirteen, fourteen, fifteen can be particularly painful for some—myself included. But what happens when puberty comes with a much more magical—though inconvenient—aspect?

Disney and Pixar have recently released a new movie, one you've doubtless heard about already. Turning Red has been all over the Internet, and for a variety of reasons. For one, it is the first Pixar full-length feature to be directed by an Asian woman. Domee Shi, who also directed the Pixar short, Bao, helps to recreate a mystical, yet incredibly relatable world in Turning Red, one that everybody (Asian or not) must-see. 

Read more: 5 Things You Need to Know About ‘Turning Red’, Pixar’s First Asian-Led Animated Film

The colour red

Turning Red is definitely not the first film to talk about growing pains. There are a plethora of movies—Disney, Pixar, and otherwise—that have taken up the humongous task of portraying all the awkwardness we remember from our teenage years.

The latest feature film, however, is among the first few of its kind to openly discuss menstruation, and that in itself is a huge step forward for female empowerment and sexual health. Don't get us wrong: Meilin Lee still feels very uncomfortable when her mother brings up the topic of periods, but in a way, that's very true to life. The title itself is allusive to puberty and Shi acknowledges this. According to the director, the symbol of the red panda does not only signify adolescence and puberty, it also stands for the things we inherit from our mothers—be it the values we treasure, or in Mei's case, the magical powers she inherits. 

See also: Meet the Cast of ‘Turning Red’, Pixar’s First Asian-Led Movie

Throughout the film, there were moments that though not provocative, were quite suggestive. Mei's first crush on Devon sees her drawing pictures of them hugging; she later asks herself why she even drew those "horrible, awful, sexy things". There's also a moment when she peeks through the windows of the Daisy Mart and sees Devon, eventually catcalling at him. Lastly, there's speculation on the Internet that Daisy's friend, Priya, could be queer after she was seen dancing with a girl at Tyler's party.

While these are all moments that can be uncomfortable for some, they are also all very important. Who hasn't had those experiences of discovering their first crush, learning about their preferences, and coming to terms with sexuality? It may be taboo to speak of, but it's one that each individual can doubtless relate with. 

Looking into culture

There's been an outpouring of support for inclusivity and Asian representation in Hollywood lately. From Destin Cretton's Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings to Crazy Rich Asians and Raya and the Last Dragon, people from all over the world have been slowly becoming more familiar with what many of us know and live.

Perhaps one of the best parts of Turning Red is not just the Asian representation on its end-roll credits (with people of colour as voice talents that correspond to the ethnicity of the characters themselves), but also the Asian representation of cultural norms in the film, some of which are admittedly, quite toxic. Some of the things I saw—such as the way Ming offered Mei a plate of sliced oranges as a snack, or how Mei's grandmother comments that "four is the worst number—are practices that my family continue to do or believe in. It was nice to look at the screen and recognise a culture that I not only understood, but live with everyday. 

Of course, Ming's overprotectiveness towards her daughter is another aspect of their relationship that's important to discuss. This aspect is one that matriarchal Asian societies (such as those in India and China) can identify with.

See also: 9 Filipino Movies That Showcase The Beauty of The Philippines

Mei's need for parental approval, her perfectionism, and her self-sacrificing point of view are also all reminiscent of the collectivist culture that's predominant in our Eastern societies. It is perhaps Mei's disregard towards this aspect of the film that some parents may find offensive. After all, Mei does end up disobeying her mother; she lies and sneaks out, eventually turning to embrace a more individualistic lifestyle. But this is all part of the shifting cultural tides in the modern-day era and highlights the relatable generation gap that many parents and children face in each other. Much like how the Lee family "gift" of turning into a red panda was considered a blessing in ancient times, is now considered a "curse" or an inconvenience. Ideologies that once served their purpose may become outdated and the tension brought on by this is something that is explored throughout the film. 

Exploring generations

Let's face it: no family is perfect. Every generation comes with its own downfalls and misgivings. This is particularly evident in Turning Red, where the topic of generational trauma becomes an important, central theme. Without realising it, Ming projects her own insecurities with her mother onto her daughter. It sheds light on a point of tension that perhaps all children must face one day: how to come into yourself despite the expectations of the people and a culture that you love. 

I found myself cheering for Mei constantly throughout the film; in fact, I saw myself in her—her awkwardness, her desire to establish herself while pleasing everyone around her. And it's incredibly refreshing to see a movie that doesn't paint a certain action as absolutely good or bad. Mei sneaks out of her home, she lies, and she rebels against the wishes of her mother. Objectively, it's easy to classify these actions as "bad", but much like in the movie, real life isn't always as straightforward.

Plenty of people, myself included, can relate to the difficulties of having to compromise between expectation and their own desire for themselves. Mei's "rebellion" throughout the film doesn't necessarily make her a bad daughter, it only shows the true-to-life difficulties that one must face in finding their own path. In the end, Turning Red is not so much about who is right or wrong; it is not a mother versus daughter, old versus new ideology, rather, it portrays the importance of understanding each other in the context of when, where, and how we live today. 


'Turning Red' is now available for viewing in cinemas worldwide. 

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