‘Turning Red’ does not blush when addressing puberty

On paper, “Turning Red” is a film about a girl who goes through puberty, but on screen there’s a lot more to uncover. 

The Pixar film is set in Toronto, Canada in 2002, where the main character and her family run a temple concerning the history of red pandas. Director Domee Shi creates a colorful and rollercoaster ride of a movie that features a lot of heart and centers on a young girl who is just trying to become herself.

We are introduced to Mei, a 13-year-old girl who has been doing everything to follow her parents wants and wishes, but when she reaches her teenage years, she decides to do everything for herself. We are told the story through Mei, who breaks the fourth wall and talks directly to the audience. 

“Turning Red” takes place during the boy band craze that occurred in the early 2000s, when Mei and her friends are huge fans of a boy band called 4 Town. However, we learn that Mei cannot do whatever she wants because she has responsibilities to her family and their temple. 

Shi takes viewers into the dynamic of Mei’s home, where she’s a lot more communicative toward her mother. There, her mother confronts her about her drawings of a boy in her notebook. Through this, we see how nervous and anxious she gets when expressing her emotions. 

After a nightmare, she wakes up and realizes she transformed into a red panda. She learns that the only reason she transforms is when she is either excited or scared. It’s also noted that not only is she going through these transformations, but she is also going through puberty. We learn that her parents know very well what she is experiencing. We learn that Mei’s ancestors loved red pandas and had a close relationship with them. The only way to stop the transformations is to manifest the spirit away during the next red moon. 

When her friends realize what’s happening, Mei discovers that her friends help keep her calm. When 4 Town announces they are performing in Toronto, Mei and her friends use the panda transformations to make money to buy tickets. However, when things go awry at a party, Mei has doubts about herself. 

“Turning Red” takes an interesting spiritual turn, but ultimately returns to Mei’s roots and focuses mainly on her relationship with her mother. Mei realizes that everyone has a beast inside them that they have to deal with, but like her, her friends and family, they can get through it.

The film juggles several different themes, including growing up and facing puberty, but it’s metaphorically presented in the form of the panda spirit plot line. This creates an interesting amount of scenarios that puts a new spin on Pixar storytelling, touching on themes of friendship and discovering oneself. 

“Turning Red” is streaming on Disney Plus and in theaters now.

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