Disney’s Turning Red: A Review


Amelia Gayle '23, Writer

On February. 21, 2022 Disney Pixar released the animated film Turning Red dir. Domee Shi, which was an instant success. Praised as being one of the most progressive and diverse films Disney has put out, Turning Red became a smash hit in households across the world. This movie breaks records for being the first Disney feature film to be directed by a woman, and breaking the Disney+ global viewership record just three days after release. 


The movie centers around a young Chinese girl named Mei Mei who has just turned 13 and is excited to start being treated like an adult; the only roadblock is her overbearing but well meaning mother. Mei assists her mother at their temple where they live in Toronto, Canada every day after school, and does everything in her power to make her mother and her ancestors proud. After a particularly humiliating dispute with her mother, Mei goes to bed and wakes up as a giant red panda. As the movie progresses, she learns how to control and manipulate this newfound power as she navigates puberty, school, and friends. 


Personally, I really enjoyed this movie. I’ve always been a fan of the Disney Pixar franchise, they’re easily digestible films you can watch that have something for everyone. I thought the diversity among the characters was a really refreshing move to see from Disney. There were Hijabis as extras and the racial diversity shown in Mei’s public school was surprisingly accurate and well thought out. Additionally, this was the first time I had seen Disney openly say “sex” and talk about horomones. The detail that went into creating the Chinatown Mei and her family live in, as well as the emphasis on the culture of the residents in the town created a really encapsulating atmosphere that almost made me forget I was sitting in my living room. The writers clearly did their research on generational trauma because the dynamic between Mei and her mother, and Mei’s mother with her own mother is too detailed to be a shot in the dark about mother-daughter relationships. The emphasis on tradition and culture not only in Mei’s life but in her community and her family really allowed for me to empathize with the mother. Even though Mei’s mother did things that probably would have made me run away if I was her daughter, understanding her relationship with her own mother and the pressure she felt to uphold tradition makes it almost impossible to dislike her. 

Despite my enjoyment of the movie, Twitter has remained in some heated discourse about this film. One of the main sub plots of this movie is the fact that Mei and her friends need to make $800 to get tickets to see their favorite band “4-Town”. Mei’s solution to this problem is to sell pictures of her as the panda with students at school, which goes viral. Students are lining up to take photos with Mei as a panda and it even got so big the girls were able to make T-Shirts, headbands, etc. to sell with the photos. This has gotten some backlash on Twitter, the reason being the panda is clearly a symbol for Mei’s period, or her sexuality if you want to look at it that way. Some people on Twitter are arguing it’s inappropriate of Disney to insinuate that it’s okay for a girl to monetize her sexuality to get what she wants, but to me that sounds like a little much. The great thing about Disney movies is that they are very surface level films. Their demographic is young children and families, so it would make no sense to make a movie that you’d have to convince a five year old to think long and hard about. Disney is known for its metaphors, but those metaphors are there to serve as a vessel to communicate larger, more intimidating topics to a younger audience. The message I got from the movie was not “Sell your sexuality to get what you want”, but instead was “Going through puberty is normal, and even if it seems intimidating, everyone goes through it and it’s not the end of the world”.