Some viewers have chided Turning Red for being too specific, but this is actually the movie’s biggest strength and unifying factor.
WARNING: The following contains spoilers for Turning Red, now streaming on Disney+.
One of the most interested debates recently has emerged over how Turning Red has been way too specific a story, leading to questions over why Pixar didn’t make it more relatable and universal for all. CinemaBlend had to pull a controversial review online, which many deemed as tunnel-visioned and ignorant by asking why it catered to one group. To that point, while Mei’s journey as a Chinese descendant living in Toronto does initially feel like it’s tailored with certain viewers in mind, that’s actually Turning Red‘s greatest strength because it helps educate people on another culture while proving how cosmopolitan North America should be.
It’s weird to hear naysayers alienated by this ending story because these films don’t come along often. Disney has tried to push more one-world content, which is why Black Panther and many of the Marvel TV shows went beyond the white gaze. Eternals and Shang-Chi further gave insight into minorities and marginalized groups, allowing different people to see themselves on-screen.
In that sense, Turning Red does speak more to Asian folks, with Mei struggling to quell the red panda inside that got handed down from her ancestor, Sun Yee. However, it’s still a universal story because while these animal transformations don’t exist in real life, many of Mei’s other struggles do. She’s the product of generational trauma, struggling to live up to her mom’s expectations, going through puberty and menstruation while just wanting to see her favorite boy-band, 4*Town.
Her dad, Jin, wasn’t even well-liked by Ming’s family, while Ming and her mom, Wu Lee, fought a lot in the past. Throw in Mei being scared to be herself and her mom disapproving of her friends, and many will realize that these are all issues many people face across the board growing up. In this case, it’s the journey of a 13-year-old Chinese-Canadian girl, but the DNA of Mei is where the magic lies. When it comes to the specificities, such as the temple rituals and prayers her family takes part in, how Mei fawns over her crushes while disappointing her over-controlling mom with failing grades and how she has to buck even more Asian stereotypes in school, seeing this portrayed on screen can help non-Asians understand Mei’s people even more.
And it’s most welcome at a time when anti-Asian sentiment and xenophobia are bubbling up again, which further shows why these stories are essential. What also adds to the rich tapestry is how Turning Red‘s closely based on director Domee Shi’s experiences growing up. Because it’s grounded in her past, it will feel extremely authentic to immigrant kids and those who think they’re the “other.”
To top it off, Turning Red opens minds for those who want to learn more about fellow citizens and push for a kaleidoscopic society built on diversity and representation. That message of equality may be couched by unique fantasy elements, but this doesn’t hinder the beautiful culture on display. Nor does it disconnect the masses from adoring the film, which is how individuality and identity get celebrated. As seen with Jin cooking Asian dishes, Mei and her family had a lot to offer outside the panda tale, and if more movies aren’t made like this with other cultures and ethnicities, per Encanto and Cocothen the world would be bland rather than a vibrant melting pot.
Turning Red is now streaming on Disney+ and will also be released in theaters to regions where the streaming service is not available.
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