On Feb. 21st of this year, Disney released their latest animated film Turning Red. I remember when the first trailer dropped and I saw a young, eccentric Asian girl only wanting to do well in school and right by her parents. Her bobbed black hair, small glasses, and hair clips urged me to pause the ad, walk to my bedroom and find my middle school IDs just to confirm that it was me I was seeing on the screen. Though, a near identical appearance wasn’t enough to get me to watch a Disney movie. It wasn’t until spring break, where I received several calls and messages from friends telling me to sue Disney for taking my identity when they wrote their protagonist. As somebody completely self-obsessed, this convinced me to give into that corporation for one movie. So, here’s my review on Turning Red.
Firstly, as an artist, there is no way I can't discuss the designs of the main cast. Mei’s design is nothing that really stands out–it’s a very normal look for a 13 year old girl. She wears a red cardigan at the beginning, which is removed once she starts transforming into a panda. When she does, the colors in her design become more eye-catching. The pastel pink of her shirt, contrasting her red hair, has her standing out of the crowd far more. The best way to summarize the designs of Mei and all her friends would be that they all look like typical middle schoolers. This isn’t a bad thing–far from it, actually. Many different young girls will be able to look at this friend group and possibly see themselves or their friends, the same way I did in Mei.
Other than Mei’s friends, another member of the main cast is Mei‘s mother, Ming. She's designed to be a composed looking businesswoman, but the aspect I find interesting about her design is the color. In Chinese culture, jade represents success and prosperity, tying the color with her culture. Another interesting thing about green is that it is the opposite of red. When looking at her, I remembered how a green color corrector is used to cover up the skin’s redness in makeup. This is similar to how Ming wishes to cover up Mei’s new ability and correct any imperfections she finds in her daughter.
The overall movie, without getting into spoiler territory, centers Meilin Lee, a 13-year- old Chinese girl going through 8th grade with her three best friends. Throughout the movie, she learns what it means to become her own person separate from her expectations, especially those of her mother which she shares a strong bond with. Among the usual difficulties that come with being a middle schooler, she also finds she has the ability to transform into a red panda with any strong emotion. Now, Mei and her friends must learn to keep the panda under control while also raising money to attend their favorite boyband’s concert, all without letting Mei’s mother know. It’s a very unique story, not just because of the story line but because of the topics covered and how they were addressed. Nobody stays the same person throughout their life, but change isn’t a good thing or a bad thing, it's just something that happens.
Throughout the movie, Mei begins gaining a new perspective and attitude on life, which brings her closer to her friends and to herself, but also causes a shift in the relationship she’s always had with her mother. Rosalie Chiang did a great job in voicing Mei, her lines really expressed the insecure sadness of a young girl not knowing if living for herself is worth the change. Along with a sweet message, the movie also doesn’t shy away from portraying all the awkward and embarrassing parts of being a pre-teen. Specifically, the awkwardness of being a young girl which isn’t usually portrayed in popular media. Although, whether you’re a 13 year old girl, or not, there’s plenty to take away from this movie.
The purpose of movies, and art in general, is to allow the viewer to step into the shoes of somebody they can never possibly understand by normal means. While a large part of me enjoying the movie came from the fact that I was able to see somebody so similar to me, I was also able to equally enjoy the parts and aspects of the movie that I wasn’t able to relate to. I was personally never into boy bands, nor am I of Chinese descent or possess the ability to transform into a red panda, but the movie allowed me to see the perspective of somebody who was. With the mix of the art direction, soundtrack, voice-acting and writing I could always feel how every other character was feeling throughout the movie. This is a movie I’d recommend to anyone interested in a fun story on growing up and change.