Meilin Lee or ‘Mei’ (voice of Rosalie Chiang) is a 13-year-old who lives with her overprotective and traditional parents in a Chinese temple in Toronto. Mei’s mother, Ming (voice of Sandra Oh), is determined to have a perfect daughter and protect her from the world. Unfortunately, she has failed to tell Mei some important truths about an ancestral gift (or curse) that affects women in her family. Mei discovers the secret on her own when she hits puberty and literally transforms into a red panda.
Ming can’t control Mei, and Mei also struggles to control her emotions. Thankfully, her friends Miriam (voice of Ava Morse), Abby (voice of Hyein Park) and Priya (voice of Maitreyi Ramakrishnan) see past the red panda. They can see Mei for who she truly is and want to help Mei learn to love herself even more because of her gift.
The girls’ favourite boy band is coming to town, but none of their parents will let them go to the concert. They come up with a plan to earn the money themselves and go anyway. The only problem is that Mei has only one chance to contain her inner panda. It’s a ritualistic ceremony that can be held only during a red moon, which happens to be on the same night as the concert.
Will Mei join her friends? Will she follow tradition to trap her panda? Or will she embrace the changes and make them part of her forever?
Puberty; bullying; consumerism; intergenerational and cultural differences; family secrets; adolescent crushes; the struggle to find yourself and come to terms with who you are
Turning Red has some violence. For example:
- Ming kicks a security guard at Mei’s school in front of everyone in her class.
- When Mei’s red panda flees the school in shame and anger, she knocks over a fire escape and a large sign. Both crash to the ground, nearly crushing cars and people passing by.
- Mei loses control, trashes her house and destroys her room.
- Mei throws a ball at a school bully but smashes a window instead.
- There is a flashback to fighting scenes during a time of war in China. This is when Mei’s ancestor, the first red panda, had to fight to protect her children.
- Mei attacks a boy at his birthday party, scaring the other guests as she pins him to the ground and shouts aggressively with red, glowing eyes.
- To find her daughter and bring her home, Ming’s red panda destroys the entertainment centre where a concert is being held. Ming and Mei fight, and Mei punches Ming in the face and knocks her unconscious.
Turning Red has some sexual references. For example:
- In horror, Mei asks herself why she would draw those ‘horrible, awful, sexy things’.
- Mei and her friends drool over a cashier, ogling him through a window. They comment on how ‘hot’ he is.
- There are references to stripper music and gyrating delinquents in relation to a band the girls like.
- The song ‘Bootylicious’ plays.
- The girls ogle a bunch of boys, saying things like ‘Number 12 has delts for days’ and ‘Are you a triangle? Because you are soooo cute!’ Later they say things like ‘We are women, and we are hot!’
Alcohol, drugs and other substances
Turning Red has some references to substance use. For example, Ming makes a comment about boys doing drugs all day.
Nudity and sexual activity
Turning Red has some nudity and sexual activity. For example:
- Mei draws images of a boy she and her friends are infatuated with. At first the images are fairly innocent, but then she starts drawing the boy embracing her. Sometimes she draws him as a ‘sexy merman’.
- Mei draws the bare, chiselled chest of a boy she thinks is cute.
- A school bully pretends to be making out with someone, wrapping his arms around himself and making passionate kissing sounds.
- One of the girls asks what a band member might smell like. Abby runs her hands down over her body as she shudders in anticipation.
- Mei does some sexy gyrations (in panda form) to upset and distract her mother.
There’s no product placement in Turning Red.
Turning Red some coarse language, insults and name-calling, including ‘stupid’, ‘weirdo’, ‘crud’, ‘heck’, ‘freak’, ‘crap’, ‘dork’, ‘narc’, ‘jerkwad’ and ‘butthead’.
Ideas to discuss with your children
Turning Red is an animated adventure movie featuring a culturally diverse cast. It might look like a children’s movie, but its main themes are to do with puberty and adolescence. It also includes several references to periods and pads. For these reasons, Turning Red is more suited to pre-teen and younger teenage audiences.
The main messages from Turning Red are that we’re all made up of many different parts. Some parts are messy, but we need to live with them and learn to love ourselves regardless of perceived imperfections.
Values in Turning Red that you could reinforce with your children include self-control, compassion, courage, self-acceptance and friendship.
Turning Red could also give you the chance to talk with your children about the real-life consequences of behaviour like:
- lying to and deceiving your parents
- sneaking out of the house without permission
- expecting perfection and condemning things that are different or less than perfect
- allowing yourself to be used by others
- not preparing your children for the changes of puberty and adolescence.