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  • Joanna Kreke

"Turning Red" is Turning Heads

Disney’s newest movie “Turning Red” tells the story of a young Asian-Canadian girl as she grows and changes both mentally and physically. It is a story about a mother and a daughter accepting these changes even if it means they grow apart as a result. It is a passion project from the life of writer and director Domee Shi.

Meilin Lee is a 13-year-old girl with three distinct friends who have their own separate interest, but are there for each other when it matters. Mei’s friends never make her feel bad about her situation or compare their own struggles to hers. They care about each other and respect their differences, knowing these differences do not change their friendship.

Abby is aggressive and chaotic in her support and love of her friends. Miriam is the voice of reason and wants Mei to break out of comfort zone. Priya loves reading supernatural romance books. Yet, they are all obsessed with a boyband and genuinely think the boys are going to fall in love with them if they go to a concert.

The character designs are accurate and realistic, giving background details to each of them. Each character has a different body type and interests, making them feel fleshed out and real. The Y2K aesthetic adds to the story and gives it a vibrant, carefree vibe. I love the use of color and how it pops in every scene.

Each of Mei’s friends have a specific color. Mei wears varying shades of red, Tyler wears light blue and orange, Priya wears turmeric yellow, Abby wears lavender and Miriam wears a vibrant Crayola green. Mei’s dad Jin wears a white shirt and blue jeans, changing its color depending on the lighting of the scene. Mei’s mom Ming wears a teal dress and a Crayola green blazer. What is interesting is how each of Mei’s aunts and her grandma wear a muted shade of green, almost bordering on gray. The inverse of the vibrant red that she wears.

I loved that they made her turning into a giant red panda into a metaphor for getting her period and puberty in general. While this is not the first time a studio made a story about this topic (Studio Ghibli’s “Only Yesterday” does exist, after all), it is nice seeing representation about it since there are not a lot of stories that talk about it.

I thought it was a good metaphor that every time she felt a strong emotion, the panda would come out. There is a scene early on in the movie when she goes to school after getting the panda and her friends start questioning her about why she is acting weird, why she smells and why she is wearing out-of-season clothes. She gave excuses for all of them, but when she sees a cute boy, the panda comes out and she has to try to hide it by walking in a weird way. I thought the scene was accurate.

Many critics have said that they do not like the movie because they do not find her turning into a panda relatable. Other people do not like it because they cannot relate to a 13-year-old Asian-Canadian girl going through puberty in the early 2000s. However, a movie’s relatability to one person does not determine whether the story is good or bad.

This movie is brutally relatable to many people both within the Asian community and outside it. I found it accurate to how it feels going through puberty before the rest of your friends and the friendships middle schoolers can have. I have heard other people say that it is accurate in its depiction of an overbearing parent.

My one critique of the movie is that it is yet another character of color turning into yet another non-human object/animal.


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