Rated PG. This one is getting some controversy because of its subject matter. While the concept of turning into a big red panda is an allegory for puberty, Pixar doesn't shy away from straight up talking about menstruation. That's shouldn't be the controversial thing, despite the fact that it is getting attention. Because the film is about puberty, the protagonist lusts over a boy who works at a local shop. It's mild, but I can see that being uncomfortable for many audiences.
DIRECTOR: Domee Shi
At one point, I had the motivation to write two of these. Then that motivation...went away. Oh, the road to Hell and whatnot. But this is a movie that is making people mad. It's also a break from my Academy Award writing (despite the fact that it might be up for the 2023 Academy Awards...if there is a 2023.) And it's something that I get, despite the fact that I don't agree with it. Heck, my wife and I are on opposite sides of the debate. My lo-key obsession with virtue signaling makes me feel like I have to say that I loved it. But the thing is, I did love it. Oh my goodness, it was so good for me as a dad of a ten-year-old to have this to share with my daughter, who is probably now mortified while reading this. Sorry, kiddo. I know that you are the one member of the family who actually reads your dad's blog.
Turning Red is a lot. Like, I adore it, but I can't deny that it is a lot. In the past decade, there's been a far louder cry to normalize menstruation. That voice has always been out there, but I do appreciate that there's a real attempt to make it commonplace. Disney has been in the news a lot lately for playing it safe when it comes to upsetting its fanbase. For every news article about LGBTQ+ elements to Disney owned properties, there's another article stating that Disney is trying to have its cake and eat it too. So to see something like Turning Red, which I also hear was chopped to bits by Disney, is kind of spectacular. Art is meant to be risky. It's meant to change things. It's so odd because people believe that kids shouldn't be preached to. Yeah, I'm the worst right now and I have this weird self-hate for all of this. But usually, when people become adults, it's too late. If a kids' movie can't talk about puberty, something every kid is going to go through, when is that eventually going to be cool?
Listen, part of me wants to soapbox about normalizing menstruation for a long time, but that's ignoring the movie. The movie did what it was supposed to, so it's my job to write about it. And when I say that it is my job, it is no way my job and I just maintain goals to have a sense of normalcy about my life. If you keep in mind that this is an allegory about puberty, which I've clearly established, it also is a story about mothers and daughters. There's something about absolutely loving one's family and being completely angry about situations. There's the notion of generational abuse that happens. Mei absolutely loves her mother Ming. There's a scene before the whole red panda thing starts where she realizes that her mother is completely overbearing, but she loves the bond that the two of them have. And Ming seems like a fabulous mother. Perhaps her expectation on her daughter are too high, but she seems to be doing all that she does out of love. That relationship isn't different when Mei goes through her transformation. It is just shed in a new life. There's something toxic about both members behaviors that's compounded by the physical change of turning into a red panda.
It's kind of amazing that Ming becomes such a villainous character. Pixar has normalized that good people can become antagonists in a story because they are misguided. With Turning Red, it even goes beyond that, establishing that everything in this story is internal, despite the fact that one could point to the concert as an external conflict. Because the girls imbue that concert with gravitas, it becomes an interesting vehicle to talk about emotions and growing pains. But I got really mad at Ming, despite the fact that it was Mei that was misbehaving. It's an odd message because the film almost invites rebellion as a form of communication between parents and children. Ming has unreasonable expectations for her daughter. When she drags her daughter to the convenience store to yell at a boy, I almost didn't believe that happened. It was the stuff of nightmares, but it shows how disconnected and broken Ming actually was. Even though she had gone through her own rebellious crush with Mei's father, she had never really grown from that moment. It's why we see her as a child in the other panda world. While other people had the opportunities to become their own people, the anger she harbored when she went through puberty was made stagnant. It's something that she carried with her for her entire life.
And as much as I sympathize with Mei as a character, I feel more for Ming. Maybe it's because I'm almost 40 and I relate more to the adults in these stories, but it's also because she's trying her best and failing so miserably. She hurts her daughter trying to protect her. Everything that Ming does is trying to protect her little girl from a world that continually lets her down. She's kind of right about that. Mei is made fun of at school. She is socially awkward. She smiles when she's with Mom. Is there any reason that she shouldn't defend her daughter so ferociously? From an outside perspective, the answer is yes. It's quite obvious that Ming continues to take her parenting duties too seriously. But Ming is also someone who never really grew out of her own imposter syndrome. That child is doing what she thinks her mother would do best. That's why Grandma comes across so caustic. We see that everything that Ming does as a mother is a perversion of what Grandma did to her. Because there was this deep and cultural respect for elders, Ming never had an entourage to help her grown out of that stagnation.
But for all of this serious analysis, Turning Red is about growing up from awkward to something else. I don't know if Mei ever really becomes cool. To a certain extent, she does. She goes from being the pariah to the social epicenter of the school. But it is also for people wanting to use her for their own good. That's where the constant friendship keeps popping up. These are the people who saw Mei's beauty before the panda. It's appropriate that they are the ones who understand her after she receives her panda. It's cute and its funny.
I do wonder why the film is set in 2002. Part of me thinks that it is "The Boy Band Era". There are simple cell phones. But the other part of me thinks that the director and writers were all writing about their own childhoods. There is something very personal about the story here. While I don't know that the movie needed to be in 2002 because there is something universal about fandom, it is this fun nostalgia trip that gives the movie its own bit of flavor. I will admit that it is odd to see my nostalgic era fade away because I'm getting old, but I do respect the new nostalgia of the early 2000s.
It's a far better movie than people give it credit for. Yeah, I can see some people being awkward about the subject matter, but this might be a movie that people need their kids to see. Normalizing puberty and giving kids the heads up might be exactly the thing that will make them less afraid of hanging out with their parents. Pixar did a good thing. It might be my favorite Pixar film.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.