What a big red panda can teach us about the joy and chaos of teenage life
Turning Red hits home for teenage girls and their parents.
The first half hour of the animated Disney movie, Turning Red, now streaming on Disney Plus, can be irritating.
Mei Ling, the main character, breaks the fourth wall, her best friends are unremarkable, the antagonist is predictable, and her overprotective mother, Ming Lee, is a cringeworthy reminder of how moms can be overly controlling in the name of love.
But then you realise that the movie is meant for tweens, and you relax a bit. You are not the target audience.
This becomes clear when Mei Ling wakes up one day to find she has been transformed into a giant red panda.
This is the story of a teenage girl plunging into the chaotic, wild, and confusing experience of puberty. Every woman can relate to those years of emotional and physical chaos, which are both confusing and exciting. Surprisingly, a red panda captures all of that very well.
While Turning Red doesn’t even mention the word “period”, the movie sparked controversy in some quarters for its subtle references to menstruation.
Thirteen-year-old girls having periods and thinking about boys? Outrageous!
But as soon as Mei turns into a red panda, the movie transforms from faintly irritating to engaging.
Now we have a teenage girl with the option to remove the curse — or blessing — of the red panda, while discovering who she is and what she stands for.
The moments that follow are sad, funny, and nostalgic. How many of us can look back and not remember the poetry and love stories we wrote, and the daydreams we had when our hormones first slapped us across the face?
Turning Red hits home. The characters are odd, quirky, annoying, frustrating, and wonderfully authentic.
By the end of the film, you’ll find yourself wishing that this level of understanding had been available to teenagers in the 80s and 90s.
If you can make it through those first 30 minutes, give Turning Red a chance, especially if you have teenage girls in your life.