Turning Red: Pads, periods and pandas

Pixar’s Turning Red gives audiences young and old, a feel-good animation that tackles the struggle between duty and identity. Since its release on March 11 on Disney Plus, Turning Red continues to impress with its colorful animation, racial diversity and upbeat songs.

Pixar’s 25th film boasts its first female director with sole directing credit on a feature, Domee Shi. Shi, who made her debut with the short film Bao in 2018, brings a new perspective to animation. The film has a main female voice and animation cast.

Turning Red features thirteen-year-old Chinese-Canadian Meilin (Mei) Lee in 2002 Toronto while she helps run her family’s ancestral temple. Along with the challenges of puberty, any strong emotion causes her to turn into a gigantic red panda.

The film has been criticized for its depictions of puberty, specifically in young girls. In the film, Mei ́s mom openly discusses periods – showing pads and other period products on screen. However, it is refreshing to see an animated film embrace puberty and attempt to erase the stigma surrounding menstruation.

Along with periods, Mei undergoes other parts of puberty. She has hair in places she didn’t before, her body smells and she has crushes on boys. It is important to note that in the movie, Mei is allowed to be hormonal and emotional without being criticized.

Shi makes Mei ́s friend group racially diverse, an important and realistic aspect to the film. Priya is Indian, Abby is Korean and Tyler is Black and Asian. It is important for young kids to see themselves represented in accurate and inoffensive ways as they are in Turning Red.

Engaging characters do not end with the main friend group. It also extends to supporting characters. The boy band in the movie, 4-Town, gives audiences upbeat and catchy songs. They embrace pop music that appeals to younger and older audiences alike. The voice actors for the band are incredibly talented – Disney star Jordan Fisher (Robaire), who appears in the show Liv and Maddie and the Teen Beach Movie franchise, sings lead for the band. Another voice viewers might recognize is Finneas O’Connell, singer Billie Ellish ́s brother, who voices Jesse in the film.

Criticism for Turning Red is largely biased against teenage girls. The message is that girls are allowed to be hormonal and their puberty should be normalized, like it is with teenage boys. It is uncomfortable for some parents to see things such as menstruation depicted because they are, unfortunately, not normalized in daily life.

I started this film expecting a lighthearted, fun experience. While some aspects of the film certainly were, it also emphasized the struggle of growing up and creating an identity that does not revolve around your family or becoming defined by your hormonal changes.

It was about time that Pixar made a film focused on young girls in a way that does not mock them. I sincerely hope that Turning Red is not the last of its kind.