“Turning Red” Movie Review for Parents
I recently sat down to watch the latest Disney-Pixar movie “Turning Red”. I had literally no idea what the movie was about since I had never heard of it or seen the trailer. All I knew is someone said it was a movie about “self-regulation”. It sounded potentially interesting, since Pixar had previously made an exceptional movie about inner emotions (Inside Out). Boy was I in for a surprise!
This movie is not what I expected at all. In fact, it is nothing like any Pixar movie I have ever seen. The movie is about a 13-year-old girl named Mei, whose family runs a traditional-style Chinese temple near downtown Toronto. And although Mei certainly could use some emotional self-regulation, the movie is actually about her journey into womanhood by experiencing puberty—beginning with her first period.
A Visual Metaphor (Spoilers Ahead)
Mei’s experience with puberty is symbolized in the movie by her unintentionally (at first) turning into a giant red panda whenever she is experiencing “big emotions”. The Mei we are introduced to at the beginning of the movie is completely unlike her alter ego. Mei is shown to be a straight-A student, good friend, and committed to her family. However, when the panda comes out, she is reckless, spontaneous, dishonest, disobedient, disrespectful, and disturbingly sexual.
It is one thing for a film to explore the challenges that puberty will present. In all fairness to Pixar, they definitely chose a difficult subject to address. I would expect any movie addressing the challenges of puberty to present some hard realities, and Turning Red does so without reservation. My issue with the movie, however, is that the message of the film unapologetically endorses the actions of the panda character, rather than demonstrating them to be foolish, dangerous, and immoral. The film’s core message is that brash independence and sexual liberation should be embraced by 13-year-old girls.
Lest You Think I’m Exaggerating
Let me give you some specific events and lines from the film to prove my point.
- Mei’s friends call her “brainwashed” for helping in family chores around their temple. Throughout the movie she becomes increasingly more rude and disobedient to her parents.
- All of the women in the family (mom, grandma, aunt’s etc.) are critical and controlling. Mei’s father, on the other hand, is portrayed as quite pathetic and incompetent. There are no admirable adult characters in the movie.
- As Mei becomes aware of her attraction to boys, she fawns over one who works nearby (a boy of 17) and secretly draws pictures of him shirtless and embracing her for a kiss. She draws other pictures that we don’t see but cause quite a reaction when her mother finds them.
- Mei and her friends also drool over the famous boy band coming to Toronto to play a concert.
- To raise money for concert tickets, Mei sells pictures of herself in panda form to her classmates at school, taking selfies while her friends keep watch lest a teacher catch them in the act. What exactly is this supposed to illustrate? The sexual nature of these acts is further suggested when a boy blackmails her into attending his birthday party, threatening to expose the pictures to her mother. He says “I wonder if your mom knows you’ve been flaunting your panda all over school.”
- Mei reluctantly attends the party (which has no adult supervision), partly for fear of exposing her behaviour to her mother, and partly because the boy pays for her to be there. The catch is that she must attend in panda form. Mei doesn’t really want to but determines “it will all be worth it in the end”. Again, what is this supposed to illustrate? Mei’s panda represents the womanly side of herself, a side she sells pictures of behind her parent’s back and is willing to flaunt for money.
- When Mei leaves the house in a condition her parents don’t approve of, she scoffs at them and says “my panda, my choice!”
- Mei and her friends lie, a lot.
- Towards the end of the movie, as Mei is embracing her panda side, she confronts her mother (in panda form) and shouts “I like boys! I like loud music! I like gyrating!” At this she slaps her behind and shakes it in front of her horrified mother. Disturbingly, she keeps doing it for a solid 10 seconds.
- At one point Mei declares “Be careful, honouring your parents sounds great, but if you take it too far, you might forget to honour yourself.”
- The movie concludes with this line: “We’ve all got an inner beast. We’ve all got a messy, loud, weird part of ourselves hidden away. And a lot of us never let it out. But I did. How about you?”
Once again I’ll reiterate that a movie about teen puberty is a bold choice, but perhaps there is a way to pull it off with tact and wisdom. Turning Red has none of that. Rather, it is an in-your-face endorsement of every worldly value imaginable. Pixar is known for making high-quality movies with generally wholesome values that entire families can enjoy. This movie (rated PG) is a clear break from that path.
I would not recommend watching this movie. It is not worth your time. But if you do decide to watch it, or watch it with your children, do so ready to have some important conversations afterward. You will need to contrast the sinful folly that is promoted with godly wisdom. This is a big task, considering the multiple themes that need addressing:
- Managing sexual desires
- Peer pressure
- Obeying parents
- Celebrity influence
- Digital safety
- Teen independence
Romans 12:1-2 tells us, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” This movie is a stark reminder that the world is eager to address tender subjects and disciple young people. Parents need to demonstrate a better path for their children than the one that the world offers, one that comes from a transformed mind that is able to discern what is good and honouring to God.
Essentially, everything that Mei does, you should do the opposite. I would encourage parents to assess for themselves if the movie is a worthwhile learning moment or not. But I would remind all parents that it is non-negotiable that we need to be addressing these issues with our children, because the world certainly isn’t shy about doing it, and it won’t be promoting the kind of values that will help our children develop into godly and mature adults.