Turning Red Was About Periods and Puberty, and it Was Glorious Movie
Turning Red received an Academy Award nomination. Here is why the candid and yet fantasy movie about puberty is one of the best from Pixar.
Turning Red has been a topic of conversation since it was released last year. The movie received an Oscar nomination for Best Animated Feature Film. This is not director Domee Shi's first Academy Award nomination, even if Turning Red is her directorial debut on a feature-length film. Shi directed and wrote the animated short film Bao, which won an Academy Award. Nevertheless, her feature film is a milestone for Pixar and representation.
Turning Red is the first Pixar movie solely directed by a woman and was co-written with playwright Julia Cho. There hasn't been anything quite like Turning Red: how it deals with taboo subjects (periods, puberty, etc.) that should be studied by future filmmakers. Turning Red tells the story of Meiling "Mei" Lee (voiced by Rosalie Chiang). At 13 years old, when everything seems very hard and unknown, Mei has to deal with a bigger challenge than feeling humiliated by her helicopter mother, Ming (voiced by Sandra Oh). All women in her family receive a spirit of a giant red panda – which they get transformed into when they have strong emotions.
It's safe to say that Mei's journey won't be easy, but with a thoughtfully crafted story, Shi was able to convey a lot of subjects that are not usually a part of children's movies. Here is how she created great metaphors, especially for periods, and why the movie is a sensational feat.
Right from the beginning of the movie, the theme of teenagehood and entering puberty is the focus. From the first crush on boys (celebrities and people they know) to talking about periods in a refreshing way, everything surrounds a difficult moment in a girl's life: when she is becoming a teenager. The unique group of main characters, that are engaging and extremely funny, are the way into this story that is much more grounded in reality even if it's strong fantasy elements. The group's struggles are extremely relatable, especially their awkwardness.
Once Mei transforms into a red panda, which later on she discovers is a family blessing (or curse), she locks herself in the bathroom completely terrified. Her mom assumes she had her first period and brings tons of essentials to teach her daughter what to do: painkillers, different pads, and a hot water bottle.
Domme Shi stated that she wanted to bring this to the screen because of how rare it is that the reality of a period is shown on television, especially in a way that is not filled with disgust and taboo. The director told Uproxx, "I mean, this movie is actually for 13-year-old Domee that was in a bathroom, horrified, thinking that she had crapped her pants. And too afraid to tell her mom or ask anybody about what was going on.” It is very nice to see how this movie was crafted with young girls that are experiencing all these changes in mind.
The Pixar movie is filled with great metaphors, including the fact that the panda only comes out when the girl has strong emotions. With puberty comes an enormous change in hormones and their levels that leads exactly to the strong emotions the panda is evoked by. It is a sensible and great metaphor for growing older and starting to have convictions and points of view of their own, as well. This is something Mei struggles with: the perfect image set by her mother of who she is and what she likes.
Then comes one of the best metaphors of the movie: the family does a ceremony where they trap the spirit of the red panda. Every woman in Mei's family has done so. However, as the story progresses, Mei has become her own person, and a lot has to do with the spirit awakened in her. The idea of hearing that a girl should be calmer, not letting their (strong) emotions out, is something that unfortunately various women can relate to. A very special moment in the movie is when the protagonist's friends tell her that she has never been more fun and carefree before, and the character has to face a contradiction that is at her core: who is she?
Pixas has been digging into something that has increased discussions, such as in Encanto: generational trauma. There is a focus on telling this problem, especially in immigrant families, as in the case of Turning Red. Mei and her mom's relationship is one of the most important ones, if not the most important, that she has. Even if her mom becomes overbearing, Mei takes a long time to be able to express her opinions and go against what Ming says.
Later on in the movie, it becomes clear that Ming has problems with her mom, and those informed how she behaves with her daughter. A powerful moment in the movie is when all the women in the family (that are present) let their panda spirits out to help Ming. At the end of this fun coming-of-age, the characters all have stronger connections and allow each other to be who they truly are.
While most praised the movie for its approach to these subjects, there were various parents (and some critics, such as Sean O’Connell on CinemaBlend), who were unhappy with the topic being discussed in a children's and the story overall. As said by the intern chief of adolescent medicine and pediatric and adolescent gynecology at Nemours Children’s Hospital Delaware, Dr. Robyn R. Miller, the problem teenage girls have is not about having too much information about menstruation but not having any. She said that a common thing is that girls start bleeding, and they immediately panic, thinking they are going to die. Let's hope that movies like Turning Red begin to deconstruct the taboo surrounding a natural occurrence, helping girls everywhere.