"Turning Red" was released on Disney+ February 21. courtesy Pixar

“Turning Red” coming-of-age story

In Pixar’s “Turning Red,” Mei Lee navigates middle school while solving a family curse.

I have no idea whether I was just incredibly exhausted or if Pixar’s latest release, “Turning Red,” was really that funny, but I spent all ninety minutes of it laughing hysterically on my couch. The movie follows a group of middle school girls as they navigate the challenges of growing up and experiencing puberty, focusing specifically on Mei Lee and her tendency to transform into a giant red panda whenever she experiences powerful emotions. I think part of what made the movie so enjoyable for me was how accurate it was. The portrayal of awkward, quirky middle school girls was painfully spot on and made me think of poor baby middle school Margaret and everything she faced, no matter how trivial it turned out to be. Watching the experience of being a middle school girl unfold on a platform such as this one was strangely reaffirming.

One of the most popular comments I have seen for this movie from other women has been celebratory remarks about how great it was to finally see normal parts of being a teenage girl depicted normally, like getting your period, struggling to explain your emotions and dealing with gaining or trying to gain more freedom from your parents. Even though these were all elements of the story, they didn’t comprise the whole plot; they didn’t work too hard to make a point or provide commentary. They were just a part of the main character. And as she was a middle school girl, this was rightfully so.

The real focus of the movie, at least on the surface, was Mei Lee’s transformation into a red panda, and her journey to try and reverse this family curse that has been passed down to her. This plotline was wholly unpredictable, another element that probably contributed to all my laughter. At no point did I have any idea what was going to happen next. Myself and the friend who watched the movie were fully engrossed, dying to know how on earth Mei Lee was going to solve her panda crisis, if she and her friends were going to get to attend their favorite band’s concert and if Mei Lee and her mother would reach a common ground. At a certain point I started working on homework while we watched, and didn’t understand certain elements of how the movie was wrapping up. I turned to my friend and asked him why everyone was suddenly singing, to which he replied, “Weren’t you paying attention earlier?! That’s how they get the magic to work!” Of course, silly me. Even if you can’t relate to the experience of being a middle school girl, “Turning Red” will have you hooked.

At first glance it sounds like it holds all the elements of a regular coming-of-age story, but something about this movie just made it so much more charming and unique. I think it all goes back to normalizing the experience of being a middle school girl. All of the emotions and many of the conflicts Mei Lee experienced because of her panda curse were so similar to those felt while growing up. I thought to myself, hey this is just puberty, except she’s a giant red panda! Something about the absurdity of this scenario really helped the regular old experience of being a girl at this age seem normal, accepted and possible to survive. If Mei Lee can make it through middle school and solve the issue of turning into a red panda every so often, then anyone can survive middle school.

I really appreciated this movie because of these elements. I genuinely cannot think of another film I’ve seen with this sort of story told in this way, and it made me so happy to see. Happy because I was literally laughing out loud, and also happy because I have always been so comforted by relatable media and knowing that I’m not alone in my experiences. I hope that “Turning Red” can provide that same sort of comfort for young girls everywhere.

You can watch “Turning Red” in theaters or on Disney+.

Post Author: Margaret Laprarie