Nothing to see red over

Nothing to see red over

Review: Turning Red

While some Christians may object to its themes, Pixar’s latest effort gives plenty for audiences to think about.

From underwater worlds, to monsters’ workplaces, to the inner sanctum of human emotions, Pixar has taken audiences through some far-flung locations to tell stories about human experiences. Their latest film, Turning Red, takes a look at adolescence, puberty, and family relationships.

Turning Red is the story about Mei, a young Chinese-Canadian girl who lives in Toronto. Mei wants nothing more than to attend her first concert with her closest friends, but risks offending her mother who does not want her to go. All of this is complicated by Mei discovering she has a family curse (or perhaps, gift) and will turn into a giant red panda at points when she experiences strong emotions.  

Not shying away from teenage awkwardness, Turning Red is charming in its frankness. As the first Pixar film directed by a woman and with strong Chinese representation (the character’s parents maintain a local Buddhist temple) the film is a unique one, but has strong themes that a broader audience can appreciate.

Once again, Pixar have outdone themselves with Turning Red’s visuals. The film captures its Toronto setting in a unique way, showing the city’s vistas, town cars, and sights like the Skydome. Setting the film in 2002 means that it provides some knowing nostalgia, with nods to the fashion, technology, and characteristics of the time. There are some anachronistic parts of the film’s dialogue, but these may be necessary to play to the younger portion of its audience.

Perhaps predictably, Turning Red’s references to puberty and periods (as well as its treatment of parenthood and religious themes), has made the film something of a target in a culture war. As Aja Romano writes for Vox, however, some of the debate over the film’s themes say more about the people debating:

…It might be a sign of how special Turning Red is that it’s attracting the kind of criticisms that aren’t really controversies at all, but rather baffled, individualised emotional explosions in response to a film that disobeys the expected rules about what it’s supposed to be.

Mei and her friends are loving, unabashed fans who don’t have to overcome their dorky passions to find self-acceptance and social acceptance. Mei isn’t the “dutiful Asian child” stereotype, nor is her mother the overbearing “tiger mom.” Turning Red gives us a parental figure who doesn’t have an easy route to self-acceptance and doesn’t have all the answers, but who recognizes, in the end, that it’s more important to parent like a team leader than a tyrant.

Perhaps that’s the film’s real offense: It offers lessons for parents, as well as their children. How willing you are to listen might make all the difference in whether it leaves you embracing its idiosyncrasies or … turning red.

While there may be aspects for Christians to disagree with about Turning Red’s worldview (such as praying to ancestors), the story has much to say about honouring yourself while honouring your parents, the tension between staying true to tradition and new circumstances, and family ties. Parents would do well to show the film to their children, while being prepared to sit down and talk to them about these themes afterwards.

Turning Red is streaming now on Disney Plus


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