Is ‘Turning Red’ really Pixar’s most controversial film ever?
Pixar has recently released a movie about a 13-year-old girl titled Turning Red and some people can’t seem to comprehend the storyline behind the self-explanatory title. The movie was marketed as a story about a red fluffy panda and many parents had the usual expectations from the movie to be wholesome and adorable to watch on family night. However, the reviews online are making the movie seem like Pixar’s most controversial film ever.
The story is about a 13-year-old Chinese Canadian girl, Mei-Ling living with her parents who are caretakers of an old temple, trying to uphold their traditional cultural values. On one hand, Mei is a loving and obedient daughter, always trying not to disappoint her mother even though her peers seem to think she’s “brainwashed”. But simultaneously, Mei is exploring her individual identity as a teenager.
Now before we get into the debate of whether Turning Red is actually an inappropriate movie for kids or not, it should be noted that Disney has never been shy of introducing hard bitter truths as life lessons in previous movies.
From experiencing second-hand trauma watching Simba witness Mufasa’s death to the scary opening scene from Finding Nemo, re-watching these movies as adults with kids of our own has surfaced a dark realisation about the content we watched during our childhood. Moreover, movies like Mulan and Pocahontas were clearly not aimed at 5-year-olds. Furthermore, most parents complained about Mei’s rebellion against her mother but, from Moana to The Little Mermaid, every other Disney movie shows the main character going against their parents and escaping on some adventure without their approval.
However, many parents have claimed that Turning Red is a lot more inappropriate for even preteens due to the major plot twist in the movie; Mei turns into the mythical “Red Panda” right when she gets her first period. Even though the analogy of a girl turning into a big, red, untamed creature as soon as hitting puberty is spot on, many parents criticised the movie for being targeted at young kids.
Ironically, the story delves deeper into this theme of parents forgetting their own teenage dilemmas once they have children, and are unable to help their kids process these milestones in a way that is supportive and understanding. Moreover, it could be that the movie is set in the present time which makes it a lot more realistic than other stories with fictional characters like animals.
More so, many preteens will find the movie relatable as they are going through a similar stage in life, while millennial parents will be reliving the cringe and embarrassing moments from their childhood, learning once again how not to act as a parent when you find out your teenager is having a crush. It was an emotional story about suffering through generational trauma, healing your inner child, dealing with negative emotions, asserting and respecting boundaries with family, but through the art of impeccable animation and direction. The character design was probably the most impressive aspect of the film including characters from diverse nationalities.
Having said that, at some points the story did seem to drag and some scenes seemed to lose the grip on the audience’s attention, but the interesting plot made us keep watching to find out if Mei’s mother and grandmother will be successful in completing the healing ritual and turn her back in to what they considered as their sweet and innocent little girl.
It’s all about the perspective as many parents criticised Mei’s behaviour to be disrespectful, however, the movie depicts how parents aren’t accepting that their children are growing up and need to be taught more about how their bodies work. By eliminating shame around a taboo topic as puberty and initiating a discussion led with knowledge, they can connect with their children and ensure that their home is the safest place for them to be themselves.
A young girl turning into a red panda is also symbolic as most teenagers are misunderstood for being angry and aggressive when they are just dealing with hormones, unable to process these new emotions and explain it to parents which comes out as disrespectful. As Mei’s red panda makes it difficult for her to deal with intense emotions, yet despite their best intentions, her parents are unable to provide her solutions as they seem to have forgotten that they too felt the same way at this age, but the only people who help her calm down the monster of teenage hormones are her friends, going through the same problems.
For that reason, the movie is more than just a brilliantly executed cinematic experience, it is a major lesson for young ones talking about friendship, owning your truth, standing up for what you believe, and self-love through acceptance, something the older generation was never taught and still struggles with as clearly depicted in the film. Even if someday you turn into a red angry panda, your friends will accept you just the way you are and always have your back.
Therefore, the most relevant and impactful outtake from the story is not suppressing the parts of you that you don’t like but instead making room for them and being your true self.
Nonetheless, the movie should not be viewed without parental guidance, especially for 6 to 9 years because some things might just go over the top of their head and create a lot more confusion. Instead, watching it together will give parents a chance to discuss appropriate behaviour with their children and become a channel for honest communication to avoid lying and manipulation that takes place between a parent and child relationship when there is fear and lack of trust.
According to most critics online, the most outrageous thing was for them to explain what “pads” are to their 6-year-old boys and felt they had to bring up the talk about periods to their preteens too quickly and unnecessarily. However, it is the exact situation demonstrated in the film that not knowing more about our biology and creating shame around a natural bodily function makes children lose confidence in their own selves.
To sum it up, the major takeaway from the movie is how breaking generational cycles can lead to creating distances between families but with communication and love it can change and the older generation can accept all the new ways through which the new generation is moulding our perception of self and finding more inclusive and peaceful ways to accept the state of human emotions, learning to tame that messy inner beast of negative feelings and channeling it and controlling it because you are not your emotions
As the climax brought a turning point for Mei and her family’s values, changing old traditions and accepting past mistakes, it also brought a bitter realisation that many of us from the South Asian culture might not experience the same happy ending as it is nearly impossible to connect with our elders in real life.