Every birthday is special. But among the milestone birthdays, the day we turn thirteen is the first that represents a change in our lives. The subtle and not-so-subtle shift from childhood to young adult starting at this age is complicated for both the young person and their parent(s).
Turning Red is the newest release from DisneyPlus. Meilin (voiced by Rosalie Chiang), has recently turned thirteen. The daughter of a Chinese immigrant family who made a new life in Canada, she is smart, confident, and driven. Meilin is also on the verge of puberty (i.e. menstruation) and everything that comes with it. While she is on the slow road to becoming an adult, her mother, Ming (voiced by Sandra Oh), would prefer to keep her child from growing up.
One morning, Meilin wakes up and sees a giant red panda in the mirror. Her parents sit her down and reveal a long-held family secret. Upon reaching the age at which she starts to become a woman, every female in her family turns into a red panda. Any extreme emotion, either good or bad, will facilitate the transformation. Torn between wanting to please her mother and starting to take the first step on the figurate path to independence, Meilin has to make certain choices that we all had to make back then.
I loved this movie. I love that Meilin is a dork and proud of it. I love that that she looks like a normal girl and not the preteen version of a supermodel. I love the diversity and the strong female role models, both on the screen and behind the scenes. Though she does develop romantic feelings (well, as much as one can at the age), it is not the crux of the story.
The heart of this narrative is the push and pull between Meilin and Ming. Ming is not a bad mother. The idea that Meilin is no longer clinging to her 24/7 is an idea that her mind cannot compute. Directed and co-written by Domee Shi, this film has heart, humor, and fully human female characters.
Though it is not without controversy. Some parents have complained that that analogy of a girl getting her period is inappropriate. First of all, this is the color of the animal’s fur. It’s not like Mother Nature purchased a box of hair dye and decided to paint this creature red. Second of all, this is a normal process. Without the monthly visit of our friends, we would not be able to carry and birth the next generation. The fact that it is 2022 and some adults are afraid to talk about this topic speaks volumes about our culture.
Do I recommend it? Absolutely. I would also venture to say that I wouldn’t be surprised if Turning Red was on several “Best Of” lists come the end of the year.
Turning Red is available for streaming on DisneyPlus.