‘Turning Red’ Should Usher In A New Wave Of Animated Features

Turning Red is a cute, charming, and entertaining animated feature. I’m just puzzled why Disney would regulate the movie, made by frequent collaborator Pixar Animation Studios, just to its online streaming service Disney-Plus. Maybe they were afraid how the movie would play both in American and overseas theaters.

Set in Toronto in 2002, the plot focus on Meilin “Mei” Lee, (voiced by Rosalie Chiang) a 13-year-old over-achiever. She claims to buck traditions people have about those of Chinese ancestry in North America and be independent, but she’s actually living in an household with an overbearing mother, Ming (voiced by Sandra Oh), who is very strict. Mei’s friends know she’s “brainwashed” into behaving a certain way but thinking it’s different.

Of course, why would Disney worry about this? Well, maybe because Ming is an example of “Tiger Parenting” which has become very controversial. Or worse that, Mei is a Millennial and TikTok and other social media forms are full of Milennnials and Gen Xers, or Xennnials, talking about the toxic, over-bearing homes they were raised in. Ming gets mad at Mei for being 10 minutes late home from school.

Mei is in eighth grade and at that age where she starts noticing the boys around the school as more attractive. She has subsconsciously been drawing sketches of the 17-year-old Devon who works at the local convenience store not realizing she has a crush on him. That is until Ming discovers her secret notebook and drives to the store to confront Devon who is unaware of anything.

Embarrassed, they go home and Mei has some bad dreams about red pandas only to wake up the next morning to be a large red panda. Mei is able to hide and get herself under control to revert back to her human form but with red hair. Originally thinking Mei has begun menstrating, Ming again embarrasses her by showing up at her school with a box of tampons, causing Mei to transform again into the red panda and leave the school.

When she returns home, Ming and her father, Jin (voiced by Orion Lee) explain this has affected women on her Ming’s side of the family for generations. And a ritual must be performed on the night of the Red Moon to contain it. But Mei discovers that turning into the red panda makes her more popular at the school.

And Mei and her circle of friends, Miriam Mendelsohn (voiced by Ava Morse), who is Jewish and tomboyish, Abby Park (voiced by Hyein Park) who’s Korean-Canadian, and Priya Mangal (voiced by Maitreyi Ramakrishnan) who is Indo-Canadian, decide to exploit it for capital gain to raise money so they can attend the upcoming 4*Town concert. 4*Town, which is obvioiusly referencing O-Town, is also parodying other popular boy bands of the era, including The Backstreet Boys and N’Sync. They’re all raising money because all their parents are refusing to buy them tickets at $200 a piece which even in 2002 was a lot. So, they’ll planning on sneaking out.

Of course, if you’ve seen this type of movie, you know where it’s heading. Ming will eventually find out. And her and Mei will have an argument blaming her friends as bad influences causing problems. Also, Ming, herself, is dealing with a strained relationship with her own mother, Wu (Wai Ching Ho), who has told Ming she will be arriving to perform the ritual on Mei and arrives earlier causing problems.

Naturally, you don’t have to be Sigmund Freud to realize the red panda is a metaphor for that moment in every young woman’s life where her body goes through dramatic changes. And parents want to keep them young as long as they can, even denying them certain things. You hear horror stories about people who refused to let their sons and daughters date even when they were 18, but still living at home. Or you hear how some people grew up without doors on their bedrooms.

Director Domee Shi, who co-wrote the script, says she based some of the movie on her childhood. Like Mei, she was 13 in 2002 Toronto. The movie is about many cultures co-existing in one city. Disney reported it put the movie on the streaming service out of concerns of the Omicron variant of Covid. But I think it’s because it’s harder to market a movie with Asian characters to some people, especially since anti-Asian sentiments, threats and violence have risen a lot in the last two years.

But Turning Red presents a universal story. Mei could as easily be Meg and Ming is Mindy and they’re from suburban Ohio and it would still fit. Granted the fantasy of the Red Panda curse doesn’t work as well with a WASP family, but there’s nothing wrong with a change. Considering this movie is set less than one year after 9/11, there’s not much mention. Maybe it didn’t affect Toronto as much. There is a school security guard who wears a turban yet not much is made of it. He’s just a regular character and most of his scenes involve having to question Ming as to why she’s on school grounds.

There’s been a lot of controversy over the misunderstanding that Mei has began menstrating. And some people have freaked out over the appearance of the tampon box, even though it’s not mentioned. Women deal with menstration. It’s an issue that shouldn’t be taboo. The more we treat it like it’s bad, the worse it makes some women feel. We see tampon products in stores. We know what they’re used for. They’re a necessity for many people. But there’s a stigmata attached to them. We still buy toilet paper and we know what that’s used for. It’s even bigger and harder to hide among the products.

But there’s something else going on in Turning Red that has gotten people upset. I wasn’t a big fan of Encanto, mainly because it perpetuated a Latinx stereotype. But like I said, this movie presents Asian characters that buck stereotypes. There’s not one WASP person in Mei’s circle of friends and the white characters are in smaller roles. I think this has some people upset it doesn’t follow the traditional white North American-European characters in Disney movies.

Turning Red had 2.5 million viewers the first day it was released on Disney-Plus, reportedly the most of the streaming service. It should be a sign that more more, especially younger, viewers want to see more inclusive stories of different cultures. This also comes as people on both side are boycotting Disney over Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill. As for this movie, Shi has said she’s open to doing a sequel or even a prequel. Here lately, she was recently promoted to senor vice president of developement at Pixar. So, hopefully, more movie like this will be made because it’s obvious there’s a market for them.

Maybe next time, Disney will release it in theaters.

What do you think? Please comment.

Published by bobbyzane420

I'm an award winning journalist and photographer who covered dozens of homicides and even interviewed President Jimmy Carter on multiple occasions. A back injury in 2011 and other family medical emergencies sidelined my journalism career. But now, I'm doing my own thing, focusing on movies (one of my favorite topics), current events and politics (another favorite topic) and just anything I feel needs to be posted. Thank you for reading.

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