Review: ‘Turning Red’ encourages viewers to ’embrace the beast within’

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Photo credit: Disney Promotional Images

Meilin Lee (Rosalie Chiang), Miram (Ava Morse), Priya (Maitreyi Ramakrishnan) and Abby (Hyein Park) pose after singing a song from their favorite boy band, 4-TOWN. Disney’s latest animation “Turning Red” follows 13-year-old Meilin Lee as she explores her ability to transform into a red panda. The film was released on Disney Plus March 11.

By Cadence Callahan, Senior Reporter

With mounds of red fur and humongous paw prints, Disney’s latest animation “Turning Red” brings a whole new meaning to the phrase “embracing the beast within.” The film follows 13-year-old Meilin Lee (Rosalie Chiang), an overzealous and high-achieving student who is described as a know-it-all by her peers. She lives in Toronto, Canada with her overprotective mother, Ming (Sandra Oh), and her passive father, Jin (Orion Lee).

Meilin’s family runs the oldest ancestral temple in Canada, which leaves little to no time for her to spend with her best friends Miriam (Ava Morse), Priya (Maitreyi Ramakrishnan) and Abby (Hyein Park). Like most 13-year-olds, Meilin and her friends are awkward and overly obsessed with the (fictional) boy band, 4-TOWN.

After Meilin’s mother humiliates her in front of her peers by showing art Meilin drew of herself and a crush, Meilin wakes up the next morning to discover she has transformed into a gigantic red panda. Meilin’s mother informs her this curse has affected all the women in her family, and tells her that she will “poof” into the panda when she becomes emotional. Over the course of the movie, and with the support of her friends, Melin goes on a thrilling adventure of self-exploration and development while trying to tame the “beast” within herself.

“Turning Red” grapples with serious topics, such as generational trauma and expectations. While Meilin works hard to get good grades and please her mother, she feels as though she can never be good enough, and struggles to find herself when conforming to her mother’s unattainable standards.

The film’s director, Domee Shi, is the first woman to solo-direct a Pixar movie in the studio’s 36 years. Shi has worked on other Disney animations, such as “Inside Out,” as well as the 2018 short animation “Bao.” In an interview with The New York Times, Shi said she wanted the film to explore female adolescence and puberty.

“I wanted Mei to go through a magical puberty transformation, and I couldn’t get the image of a red panda out of my head,” Shi said. “There’s something about the color, too. Red represents your period. It represents being angry, being embarrassed or being very lustful for someone.”

While Shi and the film have been celebrated for its exploration of the female preteen experience, the film has also received slight backlash for its unabashed incorporation of discussions surrounding periods.

“It’s a side of teen girls that you never get to see,” Shi said. “We are just as awkward and sweaty and lusty and excited as any boy.”

Despite the film being released on Disney Plus March 11, the movie is set in the year 2002 and does a fantastic job incorporating elements from that era. From Tamagotchi toys, to VHS tapes and the pre-BTS boy band craze, the film transports viewers to the early 2000s.

Oscar and Grammy award-winning musicians Billie Eilish and Finneas O’Connell worked together to create songs for the fictional boy band 4-TOWN. The songs featured throughout the film were appealing, but one song from the soundtrack that has been particularly popular is “Nobody Like U,” a song that comments on connection, and is Meilin and her friends’ theme song.

Another aspect of the movie that was admired was the somewhat realistic and hilarious depiction of tween girls that is rarely seen in the media. Unlike other docile illustrations of young girls in film, Meilin and her friends were confident and rowdy at times. The girls didn’t hesitate to stick up for one another when it came to bullies and peers, and weren’t afraid to showcase various emotions, such as anger, distress and excitement.

Overall, this film is perfect for those who seek a modern and lighthearted take on female puberty and the preteen experience. The film highlights the serious impacts of unattainable standards and expectations while using humor to drive the plot forward. Meilin’s journey ultimately encourages viewers to “embrace the beast within.”

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Summary

“Turning Red” follows self-assured 13-year-old Meilin Lee who is considered the “perfect” daughter by her overbearing mother, Ming. After a humiliating encounter, Meilin wakes up the next morning to discover she has “poofed” into a gigantic red panda. Meilin learns she will transform into the animal when she becomes excited, and over the course of the movie, goes on a hilarious exploration of self, while trying to tame her “beast” within.