11. A children’s film: Turning Red (2022)
List Progress: 5/12
There is not much to say about the 2022 animated film Turning Red that has not already been said by someone. Pundits and conservative groups wrung their hands about how “inappropriate” the film was for making the bold statement that some thirteen year olds menstruate and that’s okay. But discourse aside, most receptive audiences have acknowledged that Turning Red is a very sweet coming of age story with a lot of heart, and a very particular early 2000’s aesthetic perfect for stirring up nostalgia in older audiences. It is not groundbreaking narratively, but it is in how open it is willing to be about difficult teenage topics. “Period” is not a dirty or obscene word, and this movie is one of the few to know that.
Meilin Lee is a Chinese-Canadian girl growing up in Toronto in 2002. Mei strives to honor and respect her traditional Chinese mother, while also finding herself and connecting with her friends at school. All of those things become more difficult when she discovers her mother’s family curse; once the young women come of age, they develop the power to turn into giant red pandas when they feel any strong emotion. Most movies would let this puberty metaphor just be an unspoken metaphor, but Turning Red is not most children’s movies. Mei’s mother Ming mistakes her panic about the panda as Mei starting her period, and she says as much. Ming is emotionally unprepared to talk about the red panda and the family curse, but she is more than ready to supply Mei with pads and herbal tea. But as excitement about a touring boy band grows, Mei cannot keep her transformations under wraps for long and she must face what this all means to her and to her family.
Turning Red is so clearly a work of love by creator Domee Shi (also the creator behind the 2018 short Bao). There is care and detail in every frame of animation and every character beat. There are some details that could have been ironed out in another draft (Mei breaking the fourth wall in the opening and closing is distracting and does not add much). But on the whole, this is a strong and empathetic movie that respects children, teenagers and parents as full people with complex inner lives. Would that more things in this world did.
Would I Recommend It: Emphatically yes.