By: Amanda Guarragi
When we think of Pixar, we think of beautiful animation and a heartfelt story. In one-way or another, we are introduced to different characters that may be struggling with something. More importantly, Pixar is one of the few studios that address mental health through a child’s perspective. Not only are these stories marketed for children, but it also allows adults to understand their child a bit better. In Turning Red, we meet Mei Lee (Rosalie Chiang), who is a 13-year-old girl torn between being her mother’s obedient daughter and the chaos of her youth. As if that were not enough, when she gets too excited, she turns into a big red panda.
This movie is so very personal to me and it’s not only because it is set in Toronto. Growing up as an only child, there’s only so much room to make mistakes, let alone actually making them. The idea of the perfect daughter and the pressure that is placed on a girl at such a young age does take a toll. The idea that this perfection even exists in the eyes of a mother does more harm than good. Mei’s mother, Ming (Sandra Oh) controls her daughter’s every move and is overprotective of her. Mei wants to be able to do things her own way, as she develops into her own woman, but she can’t at 13. It’s that difficult stage of wanting to be independent but being way too young to do so. This coming-of-age story really hit hard because of how much Mei Lee was struggling to stand on her own as an individual and break through the idea of perfection.
Apart from the emotional side of this story, the cultural representation through the lore of the red panda was also important. Depending on the emotions building up inside Mei Lee, she can turn into the red panda at any time. The parallel between the panda lore and puberty is what makes this movie really funny and relatable. This is one movie that I wish I had growing up because it explains it so well, especially through the beautiful animation, and sailing through my hometown of Toronto. The story is quite simple: Mei Lee wants to go to the ‘4Town’ concert with her friends, but her mother won’t let her, so she takes matters into her own hands. After Ming embarrasses her, controls her, and turns her against her friends, Mei comes to the realization that sometimes parents don’t know their child at all and her friends are the ones that truly see her for who she is.
Turning Red is a strong coming-of-age film for Pixar, as writers Domee Shi and Julia Cho explore female agency during puberty. Shi also directed the animated feature and really presented Toronto in such a beautiful way on-screen. The ability to show different cultures coming together in my city was wonderful and I truly saw my best friends on-screen through Miriam (Ava Morse), Abby (Hyein Park), and Priya (Maitreyi Ramakrishnan). This is a movie that will resonate with three generations of women and it will present a different lens to view motherhood and adolescence. This animated feature has such a high-level energy that it will have you smiling from ear to ear.