It’s all about Mei: ‘Turning Red’ review

How Pixar’s latest movie addresses periods, first crushes and friendship.


Mei is a very outgoing and bold 13-year-old. She is about to discover what it means to be a teenager. (Photo: Turning Red, Pixar/Disney, 2022)

Jenelle Lum, staff writer

Becoming a teenager is a life-changing experience that comes with uncertainty. Adults often get it wrong, and don’t know how to connect with their child, parents and mentors alike.

At 13, it can be a challenge to feel “prepared” for these changes.

“Turning Red,” directed by Domee Shi helps to normalize and acknowledge the various obstacles teenage girls face, especially periods. The movie is centered around 13-year-old Chinese-Canadian Meilin “Mei” Lee who transforms into a red panda when she feels strong emotions.

For a girl, this can be a tough time because society places a lot of stigmas on certain things involved in the process of becoming a woman. Girls should be met with compassion as they come of age, not forced to suppress their “issues” and avoid “taboo” subjects.

Mei’s Chinese culture is not only represented properly throughout the movie, but it is an important part of the entire story. She struggles like any other teenager does, but there is an added pressure from being supervised all the time by her mother.

I was pleasantly surprised by “Turning Red” because it pushes boundaries within the Pixar/Disney realm, including the fact that the movie is directed and produced by an entire team of women, from the director to the visual effects to the team of producers.

Mei is scared of turning into the red panda and seeks refuge in the safety of her room. She cannot control the transformation unless she can control her emotions. (Photo: Turning Red, Pixar/Disney, 2022)

“Turning Red” did not hold back on the reality of being a teenager; seeing Mei’s mother Ming bring her various feminine and menstrual products and not hiding the fact that she is getting her first period was such a relief to see. This is such an important scene because the film industry took a step closer to accurately showing the concept of growing up.

Additionally, Mei’s obsession with the in-universe boy band “4* Town” reminded me of the obsession I had (and still have) with One Direction. Also, can we talk about how catchy their song, “Nobody Like U” is? I have it on repeat right now.

Mei’s willingness to do anything to buy tickets to the band’s show reminded me of something I would have done in middle school.

“Turning Red” explored the constant struggle of choosing between family or friends. This concept is something that anyone with a strict household can relate to.

I felt seen in those moments because sometimes it can be hard to choose between hanging out with friends or going to a family event. Sometimes the two groups that I care greatly about do not mesh well together and I am stuck having to make the decision of pleasing my family or having an adventure with my friends.

Red panda Mei is hugging her friends, Abby, Miriam and Priya. Mei depends on the love and support her friends give her. (Photo: Turning Red, Pixar/Disney, 2022)

Mei hides her passion for “4* Town” from her parents and feels pressured to be their perfect daughter by excelling in all of her classes at school. Her parents do not approve of her friend group and think they are a bad influence.

Thankfully I did not have this specific experience growing up, but I know some of my friends had to deal with similar situations. I was glad to see that the movie was able to explain this concept and put the audience into Mei’s shoes.

“Turning Red” is streaming exclusively on Disney+ which makes it the third Pixar movie after “Soul” and “Luca” to skip a theatrical release. I think this movie would have done well in theaters, especially since COVID-19 restrictions are being lifted and case numbers are declining.

While “Turning Red” is one of my new favorite Pixar movies, I do wish that we got to see more of the red panda. She is so adorable and I just want to hug her like her best friend, Abby.

Mei’s best friend, Abby is excited to embrace Mei when she is in the red panda form. Abby is obsessed with Mei’s red panda fur. (Photo: Turning Red, Pixar/Disney, 2022)

The other part I wish was explored was the backstory for Mei’s mother, Ming.

Mei’s father tells Mei that her mother was “big,” but there is not much context about her past. We only see her presently as an enormous red panda who crashes the “4* Town” concert.

“Turning Red” uses the red panda curse (or blessing, as Mei learns towards the end of the movie) to talk about the generational trauma that women face and pass on to their daughters is a strong metaphor for the pressures women have and place on others.

It is implied from the scar on Mei’s grandmother that Ming attacked her while in red panda form, but I wonder what the full story was. Why is she so gigantic compared to her sisters and Mei?

I would recommend “Turning Red” to anyone, but especially for pre-teens/teenagers because of its messages. Pixar is on the right track of explaining what it means to become a teenager.

“My panda, my choice!”