OPINION: We Need Turning Red


A screencap from the film, Turning Red (credit: Pixar Animation Studios)

Eleanor Shaw

Puberty: an inevitable experience in every person’s life and an especially dreadful thing in young teen girls. Nothing is worse than being a 13-year-old girl. Nothing is more awkward nor painful.

Turning Red, the most recent release of the animation studio Pixar, takes the gutsy choice to tackle the perils of puberty head on. Swapping out growing pains, menstruation, and mood swings for an analogy involving a mystical red panda curse, Turning Red follows Meilin Lee, a young girl who wakes up one morning to find she has transformed into the aforementioned fluffy beast. The remainder of the movie is reserved for Meilin and her mother, Ming, as they try to adapt to this new obstacle together as mother and daughter.

As bizarre as the premise may appear to be (and we all know Pixar loves its seemingly bizarre plots), Turning Red is a genuinely enjoyable film with a sweet core that will resonate within the hearts of anyone who shares the characters’ experiences. While it has its fair share of awkward moments, the film provides young girls with an outlet to explore the changes they will undertake later in their lives, leaving them with a hopeful resolution rather than the dismal stigmas placed on puberty.

However, it seems that these stigmas are the source for the surprising amount of backlash the movie has been receiving. For instance, one review posted on IMDb reads “Really Disney? You produced a movie about… a girl becoming a woman? This is not a subject that a young audience should ever see on film period… I am tired of woke stories in my films.” Other reviews on the same site referred to the movie as an example of “ceaseless indoctrination,” which will lead children “to become full-fledged marxists.” Several other reviews, such as CinemaBlend’s Sean O’Connell’s controversial article, have slammed the movie for not being “relatable enough” to their demographic.

Turning Red is in no way exempt from criticism. For instance, the animation style, being very cute, round, and bright, may not appeal to everyone. Further, the pacing throughout the film is uneven. A large portion of the movie is dedicated to the buildup to the concert of Meilin’s favorite boy band, 4Town, while Meilin’s family, specifically her grandmother, receive little attention in spite of being major players in the plot. But does it deserve to be branded “propaganda” and “unrelatable”? As implied by the title of this article, it does not.

Discussions of puberty and the processes that occur during that time in one’s life should begin at a young age. This demystifies any potentially terrifying concepts, such as menstruation. Turning Red provides its target audience with this opportunity. This allows reassurance that, in spite of how scary maturation is, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. In spite of this positive message, how come the film has faced so much backlash? Preexisting stigmas make it so this film may not just be scrutinized, but outright rejected.

Stigmas against these natural processes usually start at a young age, with puberty being shrouded in a veil of mystery maintained by restricted discussion. This practice, the practice Turning Red hopes to eliminate, is currently being tackled by humanitarian organizations worldwide. According to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), “Every child should know what a period is and how the cycle works in order to feel normal and secure in their own body.” This can be attributed to puberty as a whole. However, puberty seems to be an especially stigmatized subject when it pertains to biological females. We can see this manifest through statements such as “it must be that time of the month,” or “they must be PMS’ing.” If puberty and periods are not discussed openly, these stigmas will not only persist, but worsen. Lack of open discussion will lead to the spread of misinformation, or the lack of any information at all.

This makes Turning Red’s decision to tackle the subject all the more important. Young children, who will, inevitably, have to go through the process of puberty, are able to be exposed to its concept in a manner that presents it as a fact of life, not something to fear. However, because of the subject’s nature, Turning Red has faced backlash for being “sexual,” and, as previously mentioned, “unrelatable.” This is purely not the case. Discussions such as these are necessary, not just to aid in normalizing the existence of menstruation, but for the betterment of the children watching. As stated in an article written by Harriet Williamson for the Independent, “During puberty, where children are suddenly faced with new hair growth, body shape changes, menstruation, voices breaking and a sudden influx of strange and unsettling emotions, an injection of humour can be exactly what is needed to transform a scary, uncertain and confusing stage of life into something more manageable and entirely normal.”

The mass criticism against Turning Red on the basis of its subject matter rather than the film itself is fully unfair. Instead of allowing young individuals to remain ignorant to inevitable evolution, such as critics of Turning Red’s message have encouraged, there is an underlying moral obligation to encourage children to ask the necessary questions to better understand their own bodies.