Michaela Flaherty is catapulted back into her teenage years as she reviews Disney Pixar’s fantastical take on the coming-of-age narrative, Turning Red.
I think it’s telling that my dad, whose taste in film I generally trust, thought Turning Red was “worse than The Good Dinosaur” (a low, low blow), while I was truly moved.
Thirteen-year-olds are cringe-worthy, which is maybe off-putting for some viewers (like my dad), but that’s where the film’s character really kicks in. Turning Red embraces awkward teenagerdom: swooning over celebrities and fictional characters, grappling with crushes, and gasp navigating puberty. “Why do they need to make a movie about periods?” says my dad and plenty of disgruntled viewers. To which I reply, “Because this would’ve helped me ten years ago.”
Watching Mei interact with her fellow “Townies” was like reliving my dorky middle school years spent with my equally dorky friends, poring over SuperWhoLock Tumblr, practicing how to ask our moms for permission to hang out, and reenacting our favorite musicals. There’s such beauty in films that draw from real-life experiences, and I’m glad I watched Embrace the Panda: Making Turning Red beforehand; it made me truly appreciate the honesty of Turning Red, which primarily owes itself to the film’s all-female leadership. (How very #girlboss of Pixar.)
From “And Aaron T. and Aaron Z. are, like, really talented, too!” (apologies, Louis and Liam of One Direction), to Jesse’s degree in ceramics and two kids at home, everything about 4*TOWN made me giggle. The Turning Red team completely nailed 2000s and 2010s boyband culture—especially how comforting it can be for young girls to seek solace in music and fandom that is typically dismissed as “silly” or “shallow” (because God forbid, they enjoy anything remotely popular).
Though Turning Red focuses on mother-daughter relationships, Mei’s relationship with her father made me tear up. The scene where they watch her goofy videotapes nails the affirmation most girls want to hear from their fathers (or male role models) during their turbulent teenage years. In my experience, information about periods and other aspects of female puberty are often passed down from mothers (or female role models) to young women as “secrets” they must quietly handle and guard. This only perpetuates shame about something natural. Though my dad hated Turning Red, he’s ironically the person who bought me my first pads. So shoutout to my dad, Mei’s dad, and every other guy who isn’t afraid to overcome masculine stereotypes and openly uplift the women in their lives. I’m not intending to portray men as heroes to girls going through puberty; girls are plenty capable of being their own heroes, and addressing internalized misogyny is an entirely separate (but important) issue. Nonetheless, Turning Red sparks an important dialogue about the impact of patriarchy on young girls at a critical developmental stage of their lives, and of the importance of subverting the gendered status quo.
Turning Red is ultimately a sweet movie cleverly infused with subtle social commentary. Don’t mind me while I sing along to 4*TOWN on the walk to school tomorrow. (The transition from the Cantonese chanting into Jordan Fisher’s crooning in “Pandas Unite / Nobody Like U [Reprise]” has got to be laced with some sort of music theory crack). Shoutout to Pixar for somehow making me nostalgic for reading Harry Potter fanfiction at theater-kid sleepovers and crying over stained jeans in a middle school bathroom.
By: Michaela Flaherty