Turning Red – REVIEW

I always found it funny that, for literal decades, Disney and Pixar have put out several films depicting mature themes involving slavery, death, and my favorite, eternal damnation in the fires of Hell. These studios have always tread a fine thematic line so both kids and adults could find something to love in their films. Yet somehow the Facebook moms and the basement dwellers are collectively clutching their pearls over Pixar’s latest outing, saying it’s content is too inappropriate for its target audience. What could it be exactly that’s got them so up in arms you might be wondering? Is it sexual violence? Racism? A gay character being on screen for more than two seconds?

It’s puberty, and more specifically, periods.

Now, I’m not entirely sure how so many people missed the train to Obvious Town after the first trailer came out, depicting a pre-teen girl going through unusual bodily changes and grappling with newfound emotions. Sure, she turns into a big, hairy creature, but come on. You’re telling me the metaphor didn’t hit you until you read up on the film? Maybe future generations really are doomed.

Turning Red may just be Pixar’s most risky movie to date, refusing to tiptoe around the pads and hormones that come with such a formative time in a child’s life. While never explicit, the film does create an easy to understand metaphor (or so I thought) that mixes fantastical elements with modernistic relatability, especially for women. While having such a narrow audience target may mean it won’t resonate with everyone who watches it, its energetic animation and stylistic narrative approach may still manage to win people over. It isn’t exactly a groundbreaking or bulletproof film, but it manages to remain mostly entertaining while tackling themes most kid films wouldn’t dare touch.

Way back in the forgotten time of 2002, 13-year old Meilin “Mei-Mei” Lee believes herself to be in the prime of her life. She’s an eccentric star student, surrounded by loving and supportive friends and parents, particularly her caring but overbearing mother, Ming. All is well until she begins to undergo changes unlike anything other girls go through at this age. As it turns out, her family lineage has a mystical connection to red pandas, and are blessed/cursed with the ability to turn into a giant version of these animals once they begin to mature. Thankfully this spell can be contained and fixed, but Mei-Mei begins to see her furry persona as her opportunity to live out her true self and exploit her powers to finally see her favorite boyband, 4-Town, in concert.

One of the biggest complaints I saw before this film came out was that the animation style was ugly and too reminiscent of current animation trends (smooth edges, meme faces, bean-shaped mouths, etc.). However, I didn’t really have a problem with this style, as it proved itself to be expressive and fluid. Some may argue that the movie set out to animate their characters in ways that would solidify their status as “reaction images” across various social medias, but I don’t really find that to be a valid criticism. Animation is occasionally about stretching the limitations of the human form for comedic effect, I think this film does a great job at achieving that. You can see clear inspirations in the style, from modern cartoons to anime. While nothing groundbreaking, it certainly doesn’t work against the story like I’ve heard many say it does.

Speaking of the story, it is perhaps one of the riskier narratives Pixar has done purely because of it’s narrow target audience. This film is clearly aimed towards maturing tween girls, and more specifically, those from a Asian-immigrant background. Because of this, not everyone who watches will be able to find the as much meaning in the story if they themselves haven’t experienced these ideas firsthand. Yet, the film still tackles evergreen topics such as generation trauma and parental expectations, which can certainly be found across multiple backgrounds and cultures. With that being said, the film did falter a bit for me in it’s over-the-top approach to tackling some of these issues. Its fairly easy to embrace the idea of turning into a red panda as a metaphor for puberty, but there are many scenes that feel just too out of the realm of believability, particularly with Mai Mai’s mother, Ming. She’s obviously meant to be a clingy, overprotective character, but her quick reaction to finding her daughter’s drawings of a local boy, storming to his place of work, and interrogating him with the pictures while accusing him of swooning her child just felt way too out there for me. There’s plenty of embarrassing, cringe-inducing childhood moments experienced by millions of kids around the world that the film could pull from, and these moments make the mother less sympathetic while performing actions that would get her labeled as a villain in any other movie.

Where the film occasionally shines is through the comradery Mai Mai shares with her friend group and the unyielding support they show her. From the moment they discover her secret, Mai Mai’s friends are understanding and supportive no matter what, which is nice to see. Their small-scale plan to affording tickets for the forthcoming concert is low stakes, but works for the majority of the film. It does bring up questions on the intended message of the film though, as many of Mai Mai’s classmates don’t really seem to like her until they find out about her ability. This is never really resolved in an “accept me for who I am” message, so I am conflicted on what the film was ultimately trying to say about that, if anything. Additionally, while the red panda metaphor works for the most part as an allegory for maturing, it doesn’t remain very airtight when you realize it’s something that can be controlled, locked away, and doesn’t happen to everyone else. It works for the most part in the context of the film, but it’s not exactly a 1 for 1 metaphor.

While this is far from Pixar’s best, it’s certainly over-hated for the wrong reasons despite there being enough to critique. It’s a simple enough story for kids to understand, even though it allows heavier topics to exist under the surface that never sound overly preachy. Maturity and growth can be touchy subjects that parents usually try to cover themselves, and the film knows and respects this. Many people seem scared to have these conversations too soon, but many can probably agree that sometimes these conversations don’t come soon enough. Puberty is a natural part of life and destigmatizing it can save a lot of awkward and sometimes traumatizing moments from happening. The film isn’t perfect in covering these topics, yet it manages to have fun, cute moments that hold the narrative up to at least make this film enjoyable when it falters as being as poignant as it probably could have been.

Rating

(out of a possible 5 tickets to 4-Town)

Red Panda

I’ve covered quite a few kids films now on this blog, and I’ve always had the feeling that I could go beyond simply making a cocktail only an adult could enjoy. So, starting from here on out, I will also be making mocktails to coincide with every cocktail I do for a film aimed at younger audiences. That was you can have your own mini mixologist running around, throwing crap in a shaker and coming up with weird concoctions. Maybe one day they’ll have their own blog too! Just remind them…this is my turf.

The red panda is an iconic part of Chinese culture, so this cocktail should physically represent the animal while also throwing in some regional flavors. We once again return to good old lychee liqueur, created with the titular Southeast Asian fruit whose flavor is reminiscent of a strawberry and a melon. I’ve mixed it with a homemade strawberry juice to better amplify its distinct flavor, made with a 2:1 ratio of strawberries and water, along with a little sugar. Additionally, I’ve found the inclusion of a little bit of Tazo Passion tea to bring a nice bit of citrus to the drink as well. To bring it all home, you can garnish two strawberries to the rim of the glass to replicate the red panda’s triangle ears.

For the mocktail variation, you essentially want to just replace the alcohol. A lychee soda or juice is perfect to maintain the flavor of the fruit, and offers the opportunity to introduce your child to brand new flavors they might not experience elsewhere!

Ingredients

COCKTAIL

  • 1oz vodka
  • 1/2oz lychee liqueur
  • 3oz strawberry juice
  • 1/2oz lemon juice
  • 1oz Tazo Passion Tea
  • Garnish: 2 strawberries

MOCKTAIL

  • 3oz strawberry juice
  • 1.5oz lychee soda/juice
  • 1/2oz lemon juice
  • 1oz Tazo Passion Tea
  • Garnish: 2 strawberries

Instructions

  1. Add ingredients to a shaker and shake with ice.
  2. Strain into a chilled glass.
  3. Garnish the rim of the glass with two strawberries by removing the leaves and cutting small slits into the top, placing them upside down on the rim of the glass.

2 thoughts on “Turning Red – REVIEW

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