Animation,  Comedy,  Coming of Age,  Family

Turning Red Controversy and the Uncomfortable Truth

Turning Red

Director: Domee Shi

Date Created: 2024-04-08 02:32

Editor's Rating:

If you did not feel at least a tiny bit uncomfortable a few times during Turning Red then you’re lying to yourself. Pixar’s latest animated film lifts the uneasy realities of growing up off the screen and immerses you into its brilliant, upbeat world.

turning red controversy
Turning Red is a coming-of-age, comedy animation about Mei Lee, a vibrant adolescent whose journey begins when she transforms into a giant red panda after an emotionally overwhelming experience. With the help of her best friends and her watchful mother, Ming Lee, Mei Lee must find a way to master her wild emotions.

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Turning Red Controversy

As I mentioned before, Turning Red is bound to make you feel uncomfortable. And when there’s discomfort, there’s controversy.

I came across this Facebook post on Twitter where a concerned mom listed all the moments of alarming moments in Turning Red, including the rebellion of 13-year-old girls, the scene where Mei Lee gets her period, the freaky ritual to remove the panda, the lustful approach to boys, and more.

And honestly, she practically listed all of the moments that raised my eyebrows a bit. But does that make this film a sinful disgrace that allows the devil to enter your life – I don’t think so. Let’s break it down.

Turning Red Controversy #1: Starting your Period

turning red pads

Yes, Mei Lee’s mother fears that she may have started her period after she frantically wakes up as a giant red panda. During this scene, it dawned on me that I can’t recall a single movie that mentions that reality of becoming a woman. It’s so hidden, concealed.

So yeah, it was strange to not only see it mentioned in a movie but in an animated movie which are usually geared towards kids.

Now, do I think that it should proudly be shown and elaborated on in entertainment-purposed animation films? No. Simply because it’s gross. It’s bodily excrement that should not get any more screentime than any other bodily excrement but it was nice to not pretend like it doesn’t exist for two minutes.

Turning Red Controversy #2: Rebellion

Others have been concerned with the amount of rebellion that Mei Lee gets into with her friends.

Isn’t that just a part of adolescence?

This really feels like a “he who has no sin, cast the first stone” kind of moment.

In that pre-teen/teen stage of life, kids are trying to figure out who they truly are. They tend to cling to friends closer than family as they try to find their place in the world.

Of course, they should still be respectful of their parents, but they’re also their own human beings at the same time. It’s a bit of a tightrope to walk and pre-teens/teens are really clumsy so they’re bound to mess up.

I don’t think that Turning Red is condoning rebellion but rather, again, not pretending like it doesn’t exist.

Turning Red Controversy #3: Lustful Approach to Boys

turning red lust

I’m trying with everything in me to keep this brief but this controversial aspect of the film right here — whew! It was A LOT. Where to even begin?

I will say that this aspect of the film is 100% a double standard. It WOULD NOT go over well if it was a bunch of boys lusting over girls. It just wouldn’t.

Again, I can’t think of another film that approached this sexual awakening of Mei Lee as head-on as Turning Red did. They were really like, let’s go all-in on this coming-of-age genre.

I’ve just never seen an animated teenage girl so open about her horniness, to be frank. It was new, it was real, and it was honest.

When I was in 8th grade, One Direction was all the rage, and honestly, with the depiction of Mei Lee’s friends and 4*Town, this movie is not far from the truth.

Turning Red Controversy #4: The Freaky Panda Ritual

This part of the film did creep me out just a little bit cuz it truly looked like an exorcism.

But then, when they overlapped it with the 4*Town Boy’s music at the end, I was like, wait – hold up. This is actually a bop.

And to go a little deeper into this controversy, there was a line at the very end of the movie that didn’t sit well with me.

“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?”

I’m getting Yin/Yang themes here, this message that we’ve got to balance the good and bad within us.

Do I agree? Not really. Some people really need to exorcise the beast within them. Let it go. And others have a thorn in their flesh meaning that they do have to find a way to coexist with the beast, walking by faith and with grace.

Both ways were shown in this movie though. The mother’s beast needed to go. “I told you she was large.” But Mei Ling and her beast could coexist in peace.

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Turning Red Questions

What is Turning Red a metaphor for?

Turning Red is a loaded metaphor for starting your period, or menstrual cycle while simultaneously meaning turning into a giant red panda. It can also further mean turning red from embarrassment, anger, or from being flustered.

What’s the message of Turning Red?

The message of Turning Red is to tame the beast within you and learn how to coexist with the loud, messy, and weird parts of our being.

What is controversial about Turning Red?

The depiction of a teen girl starting her period, teens rebelling against their parents, a lustful approach to boys, and freaky panda exorcisms.

In Conclusion…

Every aspect of this film that was deemed “inappropriate” or controversial are really just aspects of life and growing up that we’re too uncomfortable to admit the truth of.

I don’t think that this movie is harmful or inappropriate for kids at all. Kids will walk away with a bright, funny movie about a girl who turns into a Red Panda, adolescents will walk away with a relatable movie about the uncomfortable growing pains they’re going through, and adults will walk away with a new, refreshing perspective on their cringey preteen years.

Apart from the controversy, Turning Red was a stunning, refreshing, and unpredictable masterpiece. The visuals, the music, and the emotional range of the whole film were absolutely captivating. The crisp, meticulous animation gave my eyes cavities. There were moments that annoyed me a little bit, like the overly extroverted teen and the stereotypical boy band, but despite my reservations, they all won me over by the movie’s end.

Stellar film. An absolute delight. Embrace the discomfort that is the reality of living a life and laugh it off with Turning Red.

Rating: 9.5/10

What parts of Turning Red made you uncomfortable? Let me know in the comments below!

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Peace, love, and lots of popcorn,


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  • IMO Flicks

    When I'm not over-analyzing movies, I'm eating chocolate, belting my favorite songs, and binge-watching reality dating shows. Feel free to share your opinions with me and follow me through my social links!

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