Turning Red Controversy: What’s a controversy? In Pixar’s latest feature Turning Red, a Toronto adolescent turns into a (big) red panda, no one can decide. Turning Red may have been dragged into bigger discourses about parents, kids, and the cultural war in the hunt for an objection.
The film’s audience adores Mei, a 13-year-old Chinese Canadian girl with fannish hobbies and geek squad buddies. They’ve praised Turning Red’s early-2000s Toronto setting, celebration of adolescent girlhood, and depiction of a youngster battling with family, community, and suppressed past.
Since its March 11 release, the buzz about Turning Red has been dramatic, and you may think it’s Pixar’s most contentious picture yet. While that’s definitely not true, the Turning Red dust-ups keep going viral — maybe because the things a few people are furious over are simply… strange. The concerns include assertions that this film isn’t relevant and uncomfortable with the representation of a young lady in puberty, a kid having agency, and the reality of 13-year-old females.
Many viewers will recognize Turning Red’s narrative. The Toronto setting is rich with local flavor and subtleties. Mei is a confident, passionate, boy-crazy schoolgirl. It’s unusual, outside of Bob’s Burgers’ Tina Belcher, to see this type of loving, lighthearted femininity on film. Mei’s favorite band, 4*Town, is a funny combination of early 2000s boy bands, with nasally vocals, loud synth, and drum pads. Tamagotchi and Sailor Moon are both referenced. The film’s loving yet stern parents and the rich Chinese cultural signifiers have been praised by audiences.
The film concentrates on a single yet wide metaphor. Mei’s mother offers her independence but maintains a careful check on her and expects her to serve in their family temple, which celebrates the red panda. Mei’s puberty sparks a change when she feels tremendous emotions, and she finds that this secret has troubled the family for decades. The “treatment,” as her mother defines it, locks away hostility, rage, fear, but also passion and happiness.
Turning Red is often viewed as an intergenerational trauma story. This might emerge as learned habits in reaction to oppression, violence, or other obstacles that are handed down via the family or community, like Mei’s familial inheritance. This tale might also be seen as a commentary on how Asian diaspora children deal with high expectations to excel in countries where they endure prejudice and estrangement, sometimes silently.
This metaphor is resilient and relevant to many situations. A girl’s ancestral temple sealed away her red panda spirit using a Chinese shaman and a blood moon. A family forces a child to repress a messy, distasteful aspect of themselves they were born with and don’t want to get rid of, even if they’re still learning how to navigate the world with it. Millions know this story. Mei says, “We all have a dirty, noisy, crazy side of ourselves that we don’t let out.” Turning Red should be relatable. The greater cultural argument about Turning Red was mandated by a single strong critical voice saying it isn’t.
Sean O’Connell, CinemaBlend’s managing director, wrote a now-retracted but still-archived review. Even attempting to empathize to Turning Red’s Toronto kids “wore” O’Connell out. Pixar’s trend toward “personally personal, less universal storylines” risks alienating audience members who can’t connect with the plot beyond the animation. O’Connell called the film’s audience “limited and highly particular” and said it didn’t “bother to integrate storyline aspects everyone may find intriguing.” He also called Turning Red’s offbeat narrative a Teen Wolf rip-off, implying he’s only watched one adolescent werewolf movie. Domee Shi was inspired by ’90s anime.
O’Connell apologized and the website removed the review and published a better one by Sarah El-Mahmoud, who called Turning Red “the most relevant Pixar picture I’ve ever seen.” El-evaluation Mahmoud’s was good, but O’Connell’s garnered all the attention. Turning Red’s “specificity” became a topic of public debate. Complaints continued. Some viewers and critics have criticized the film’s “maturity,” Mei’s willfulness, and teen females in general.
Actually haven't heard of the movie but after seeing this tweet this morning I just came across this on FB. It's got some people nice and mad! lol pic.twitter.com/nyjZdsEEUG
— I'm a Unicorn (@woopdedoo652) March 13, 2022
The hashtag “#at13” trended as individuals described how awful they were at 13 for anyone who thinks 13-year-olds are cool. Turning Red is hardly “controversial.” As a lifetime fanatic, I thought the film lovely. It may be an indication of how exceptional Turning Red is that it’s generating puzzled, customized emotional outbursts in response to a picture that disobeys the accepted norms about what it’s intended to be.
Mei and her friends are passionate, unapologetic admirers who don’t have to hide their silly obsessions. Mei is neither a “dutiful Asian child” nor a “tiger mom.” Turning Red provides us a parent who doesn’t have an easy path to self-acceptance or all the solutions, but who realizes it’s better to parent like a team leader than a dictator.
Perhaps that’s the film’s actual offense: It teaches parents and children. Whether you embrace its quirks or turn scarlet depends on how well you listen.