“Turning Red,” the coming of age story we’ve been waiting for

This poster for the movie shows Meilin as a red panda in her classroom full of her friends and classmates.Image retrieved from  IMDb.

This poster for the movie shows Meilin as a red panda in her classroom full of her friends and classmates.Image retrieved from IMDb.

Audra Gullquist, Layout and Design Manager

The movie “Turning Red” was released on Disney+ on March 11. “Turning Red” is a beautiful and inspiring coming of age film about the fine line between honoring your family and still being your true self. If you are reading this article before watching the movie, be warned that there are a few spoilers ahead.

The main character, Meilin “Mei” Lee, is Chinese-Canadian and her Chinese heritage plays a large role in the movie. Her mother is very strict and it is hard for 13-year-old Lee to navigate through life with her mother watching her every move. Lee sets the tone for the movie by stating, “The number one rule in my family: honor your parents. They’re the supreme beings who gave you life… Some people are like ‘be careful, honoring your parents sounds great, but if you take it too far you might forget to honor yourself.’ Luckily, I don’t have that problem!”

In the beginning, Lee says that she does what she wants, gets straight A’s, wears what she wants and states “I accept and embrace all labels.” However, as the movie goes on, that proves not to be true. Her friends call her “brainwashed,” but she fights back by saying that she’s her own person that just has responsibilities. These responsibilities include helping her family clean and take care of their temple daily. It is made clear from the beginning that red pandas are a big part of their heritage as they are placed all over their temple. 

 Lee develops a harmless crush on a 17-year-old boy named Devon. She began to draw pictures of him. When her overprotective mother found them, she freaked out and went to Devon’s place of work to accuse him of corrupting her daughter. She then showed him the pictures Lee had drawn and embarrassed her in front of a bunch of classmates that were present. They all began to laugh at her and call her names. This obviously made her very upset at her mom but she did not speak up for herself. 

That night she had nightmares about the incident and woke up to the shocking surprise that she had become a red panda. Naturally, she freaked out and hid it from her mother by letting her mom believe that she got her first period. Lee did discover, however, that she only turned into the panda when she was emotional and when she was calm she turned back into herself.

However, she could not hide it for very long because her overbearing mother hid outside her class later that day because Lee forgot to bring her pads to school. After the whole class noticed her mom outside, Lee got embarrassed once again and turned back into the red panda. She then ran out of the school before anyone (except her mom) was able to see her. 

Her mom then explained that their ancestor had a mystical connection with red pandas and had asked the gods to turn her into one in order to protect her daughters during war times. This blessing/curse was passed down through the women in the family, from mother to daughter. She also explained that there was a ritual that could stop the curse of the red panda. However, after learning how to embrace and be proud of the beast inside her Lee decided to keep the so-called “curse.” 

The movie ends by Lee encouraging viewers, “We’ve all got an inner beast. We’ve all got a messy, loud, weird part of ourselves hidden away and a lot of us never let it out. But I did. How about you?”

 It is truly refreshing to see Disney release a film that is about a preteen finding herself with the help of her friends and family. Plus, it has a large focus on heritage rather than dating boys as seen in other preteen movies.

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