"Turning Red" Review From an Asian American

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Warning: This post may contain spoilers for the Disney Pixar film, Turning Red.

General Opinion

As an Asian American, I was very excited for this film to come out, but I will admit when the movie started and we meet Mei Lee, my immediate thought was "oh boy, this is not going to be for me," because as the teacher described her perfectly, Mei Lee is a "mildly annoying young lady." 

However, as the story progressed, I was able to relate more and more to thirteen-year-old Mei. She plays the flute, just like I did growing up. We both wear glasses and are Asian growing up in a predominately white society. She's Chinese Canadian (Cantonese), whereas I'm Chinese American (Taiwanese/Mandarin). She has an overbearing mother who is concerned about her grades, does not like her friends or the music she listens to, and has to know where she is at all times. This causes Mei to hide her true self from her parents as she works hard to keep her mother's approval, something I am, unfortunately, all too familiar with.

I don't remember my friends ever ogling over boys like Mei and her friends did, but I definitely knew girls who did and I had my own crushes. I never drew "sexy" drawings like Mei did (which honestly weren't as bad as people made them out to be) because I am no artist, but I did write some pretty saucy stories, so I was still able to relate to her feelings. 

4*TOWN reminded me of the Backstreet Boys and Nsync obsession back when I was growing up, or the newer boy band, BTS.

Then there were ways that I could not relate, which also made me a bit jealous of her. Mei seemed so confident, so sure of herself at thirteen. She embraced all labels, no matter how good or bad they were. She had a really close-knit group of friends that seemed to always hang out together and loved each other for who they were despite how different they were. I mean, she loved her friends more than her parents! She also had a diverse group of friends, whereas growing up, I felt like the only Chinese American in a sea of Caucasians. 

Overall, I have really come to love this movie. I enjoyed the Asian touches, like the scene of Jin cooking, giving the viewers a little peek into real Chinese cooking and food. I loved that there is no villain. Like Encanto, it focuses on family trauma and breaking generational cycles. 

Now that I have covered my general opinion of Turning Red, let's dig a little deeper:

The "Sexy" Drawings & Red Peony Blooming

Let's talk a bit more about those "sexy" drawings and the mention of periods that riled the internet. There are some people that did not like that Mei drew images of a boy holding her or that the movie mentioned menstruation. They, apparently, were not prepared for that and did not like that their kids were exposed to it, so here is a very important reminder to always research or watch a movie before letting your child see it. Turning Red is rated PG (which means parental guidance is recommended) for a reason. If it was rated G, it would show up on the "Kids" Disney+ account. 

My daughter is five, but she already knows what a period is since age two because she used to follow me to the bathroom all the time! (I have no idea how other moms kept their period a secret as kids do not let you go to the bathroom alone.) She was curious about blood in the toilet, why I had to wear "diapers" as those are for babies (which I clarified were cloth pads for blood), etc. Kids are very observant and are not stupid. I told her that as an adult woman, I bleed once a month, and it's called a period. She just needed a simple answer and she accepted it and moved on. Adults make too big a deal out of this stuff. 

So I did not watch the movie prior to letting her watch it with me, but she quickly lost interest the first time. The second time around, she paid a little more attention and by the third time, she loved it and was asking to watch it again! 

Personally, I loved that the pads were shown and that menstruation was talked about as if they were normal because they are! I grew up feeling shame that I bled once a month, which is awful as I can't prevent it. It's a normal bodily function and people need to learn to accept it.

What Age is Turning Red Best Suited For?

Even though we watched it with our five-year-old, I feel Turning Red is more for older kids (8+) as they are the ones who are going to relate more to Mei and her struggles with transitioning to adulthood. The messages flew over our daughter's head. However, she thought the red panda was funny and loved the chanting during the Red Moon ceremony (she even requests for us to play it on Spotify), so even she got something from it.


A lot of people apparently had a problem with Mei disobeying her parents by going to the concert, sneaking out of the house to attend a party, and using her panda to make money. But there are a lot of Disney kids and teens that disobey their parents! Ariel and Luca ran away from home to become human. Jasmine ran away from home. Simba took Nala to the elephant graveyard. Nemo touched "the butt." Cinderella went to the ball. This is not the first Disney movie to have a teen rebel against their parents, but I feel this one may hit more close to home as it is a more realistic scenario than running away and becoming human or being chased by hyenas. 

I think it is important to understand why Mei disobeys her parents, more specifically her mother as her father was considering letting her go to the concert. She felt as if her mother did not understand her and did not trust her. 

Whenever 4*TOWN pops up, her mom criticizes them so it's not even until Mei asks to go to the concert that her mother even knows Mei likes the group. I can't blame her as after seeing how her mom overreacted from finding her "artwork," how is she supposed to feel safe to tell her parents about anything else? Plus her mother said no to the concert, but she still wanted to go, so like a lot of teens, she finds her own way to get to the concert.

Later, when her mom discovers her merchandise and party invites under the bed, we also find out she has even hidden her homework, showing that she does not even feel safe to let her parents know when she has a grade less than an A. Mei confesses later to her friends when she apologizes for throwing them under the bus that all she wanted was her mother's approval, but realized losing her friends felt worse. 

Ming realizes at the end that she may have been too strict and it really hit home when she said:

"I see you Mei Mei, you try to make everyone happy but are so hard on yourself, and if I taught you that, I’m sorry. So don’t hold back, for anyone." - Ming

For the first time, she acknowledges her daughter for who she is and apologizes for making her feel that she needed to make everyone happy. She gives her daughter the freedom to be herself and we see that at the end of the movie when she chooses to go hang out with her friends rather than stay and work at the temple. They agree to come home later for dinner, showing that their relationship has become more balanced. 

If your goal is to have a child that obeys you all the time, then I think you may need to reconsider parenting. No one should always obey anyone, including children. It's important for children to be able to feel safe to voice their opinions and disagreements.

As Albert Einstein once said:

"Unthinking respect for authority is the greatest enemy of truth."

Let's Talk About Jin!

Mei's father, Jin, does not get enough credit and is often overlooked, which I think is what the producers were going for. 

I honestly feel Ming treats him quite poorly. For one, he seemed excited when Mei asked if her mom would rather spend time with dad, but then Ming chose to go to "Mathletes" with her daughter and you see him hang his head, showing disappointment. At that point, I got the feeling Ming might have only married Jin for his cooking as it is emphasized that he is an excellent cook. But later we find out he was the reason Ming had a big fight with her mother, revealing that Ming does love Jin.

Jin is the only one who sees his daughter for who she is. He was even willing to consider letting Mei go to the concert, but her overbearing mother would not hear it and quickly shut him down with the palm of her hand. He even encourages Mei to keep her panda after seeing how happy she was with her friends, which brings him to say one of my favorite quotes in the movie:

"People have all kinds of sides to them. And some sides are messy. The point isn't to push the bad stuff away. It's to make room for it, live with it." - Jin

Yet, despite how controlling Ming is, Jin stays by her and he seems to always be reassuring her that things will be okay. Jin's a great husband and dad, but his major flaw is that he's a pushover and lets his wife make all the decisions. 

Why is Ming's Panda so Big?

Ming's panda may just be Godzilla big because that's just how it is and there is no reason. In a post by The Wrap, the directors even said themselves that they didn't want to get into magic rules, so they just left it as her being big (source). 

Yet, the story tells us that Sun Yee was given the ability to transform into a red panda by harnessing her emotions, and she then passed this gift on to her daughters. It was meant as a blessing but now is seen more as an inconvenience or a curse.

The fact that their red panda form is related to their emotions leads me to believe that Ming's giant size might relate to how strong her emotions were when she transformed.

It is implied throughout the movie that Ming does not have a great relationship with her own mother. We even find out later that she had hurt her mom when she was younger, which I believe explains the scar on the grandmother's forehead. In the same scene, we learn that Mei and Ming have similar feelings of not being good enough for their moms, but Ming's may have been stronger resulting in a larger panda.

Thoughts on the Movie's Ending

The Turning Red ending is bittersweet. Mei keeps her panda because she embraces all parts of herself (the good and the bad), but her aunts and grandmother, all still choose to seal their pandas. They can still not accept their full selves and choose to hide their strong emotions, rather than embrace them as a part of them. 

My husband mentioned it would have been more heartwarming had they all decided to embrace their pandas and kept them, which would have made for a happy ending. However, we agreed that the chosen ending was more realistic as trauma is not that easily resolved. There was some healing when Mei talked to her mom's younger form and the grandmother embraced Ming at the end. I still tear up when the grandmother says: "You don't have to apologize, I'm your mother." But only Mei is truly able to break the cycle and embrace her panda (her intense emotions), seeing it as the blessing it was meant to be.

Have you watched Turning Red? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments!