Pixar’s “Turning Red” turns stereotypical tables


Ruby Snow, Writer

Puberty evokes intense emotions and mood swings in anyone who’s experiencing it. 

In Pixar’s Turning Red not only does the protagonist feel these emotions, but she transforms into a red panda in the process.

Thirteen-year-old Meilin Lee has aimed for perfection her entire life. Her report cards 

yield nothing but As, and she’s never missed a day of chores at her family’s temple– until she discovers her ability to become a red panda. 

I’ve heard mixed reviews on the film, some claiming that it’s powerful and heartfelt while others say that it’s aimed at the wrong audience and talks about unsuitable topics for children (puberty, arousal, etc,). Although I understand the latter, I found that the movie wonderfully executed the challenges of puberty while also knocking down overused Asian stereotypes. 

Though I don’t disagree that Mei comes off as being full of herself at times, those traits make her a far more relatable character. If she truly was the “perfect daughter” that she made herself out to be, Mei wouldn’t be half as relatable. Her flaws and quirks make her someone that viewers can identity with, whether it’s with the way she fawns over 4*Town or the way she avoids being blamed for her actions when faced with her mother’s rage. 

Similar to the controlling nature of Queen Elinor in Brave and the high-handed Abuela in Encanto, Ming Lee exemplifies the overbearing maternal figure widely featured in recent Pixar works. In all three of these films, these characters seem antagonistic in the beginning, but by the end, their ways have often been changed by the actions of the protagonist. Is this Pixar’s way of straying from the “Mother knows best” ideology, or something different?

The complex mother-daughter relationship in Turning Red exhibits the social and generational pressure that can be put on maternal figures to suppress their emotions for the “good” of their children. It is an intimate look into something that many viewers can most likely identify with through personal experience.

At first, I thought that this film also relied on common stereotypes, such as the fangirl personality and the academically-overachieving Asian persona. As the plot thickened, though, the movie sheds more light on these stereotypes. Hollywood has a history of overusing the quirky Asian-sidekick stereotype in many movies, but Turning Red switches it up. Although Mei is quirky and hardworking, the movie doesn’t focus on these aspects. It sheds light on the rest of her personality besides the things she may be stereotyped as, along with her friends. While they may come off as the stereotypical “fangirl”, Mei’s friends support her throughout the film and each have a crucial role in her taming the panda.

Though some have marked off the movie as “unrelatable” and “too mature” for its intended audience, looking beneath its surface yields struggles anyone can identify with, especially puberty. While not everyone faces the issues that Asian diaspora children deal with such as Mei, yearning for acceptance from your family and friends is a worldwide struggle. Despite Turning Red having an easy-to-identify-with focus, some still criticize its relatability.

The infamous review left by Sean O’Connell in which he refers to the movie as “exhausting” and aimed at a “very specific” and “very narrow” audience, is, for a lack of a better word– racist. The now recently deleted review is written from a white-centered perspective, and fails to look beyond the surface of the film. Although it’s true that not everyone can relate to Meilin and the intergenerational trauma she faces, that doesn’t make it a poorly executed film. What O’connell’s review ultimately promotes is that a film needs to be white-focused in order to truly reach its apparently “larger” audience. This opinion is a reflection of what America’s film industry has promoted as “relatable”, which largely excludes people of color. Representation should be viewed as an improvement in the film industry– not an “exhausting” concept. 

Overall, I would give Turning Red 4 ½ out of 5 stars. Albeit some of the more complex themes in this movie, I find it to be a very entertaining, family-friendly film! Compared to other recent Pixar works, the family dynamic is similar and it switches up long-lasting familial stereotypes, making for a more interesting and relatable film.