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Pixar’s “Turning Red” Takes a Unique Approach to Puberty

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at WPUNJ chapter.

Disney & Pixar’s latest film, Turning Red, released on March 10th, and if you’ve ever wondered how Disney would approach the complex world of becoming a woman all while balancing the traditions of one’s ancestor and the pressures of family, well, you finally have your answer!

Meilin Lee is a 13-year-old girl living in Toronto, Canada in 2002. Like many girls her age, she is trying to find her way in the world, navigating school, friends, boys, and a passionate love for the movie’s fictional boy band, 4*Town. She is loyal to her parents, working tirelessly to be the daughter she thinks they deserve. Just when it seems she has a handle on it all, she is thrown a pretty major curve ball.

As if being 13 isn’t hard enough. Meilin wakes up one morning to discover that she has transformed into a giant red panda, triggered by her intense emotions and only controlled when she is able to tame them. Soon enough, she discovers the buried family secret and what she must now overcome. 

Turning Red is a milestone for Dssney in more ways than one. With this film comes the first all-female leadership team in Pixar animation history, led by Domee Shi, the first solo woman to lead a feature length film for the studio. She started out as a Pixar Intern in 2011 before going on to contribute to films including Inside Out, The Good Dinosaur, Incredibles 2 & Toy Story 4. In 2018, Shi directed the Pixar short Bao, earning her an Oscar and making her  the first woman of color to win in that category in 2019. 

While the red panda transformation is wild and creates a crazy fun ride for viewers, at its core is a metaphor for what so many young women experience at this stage of life: puberty. The extreme waves and changes of emotions that come with hormones, the sudden development of your body that you must adapt to, the fascination with boys when they go from disgusting to swoon worthy. It’s confusing and overwhelming, and Disney & Pixar’s take on this was unexpected but very well done! While the reality of this does not see us changing forms, the sudden fear and attempts at how to understand things like periods and body odor are spoken of in this unique way. 

Topics such as these are challenging to approach with young girls who don’t quite understand the world, let alone how they will change and develop over their adolescent years. Presenting this through the lens of Pixar’s skilled storytelling might just help provide a way to start the conversation without making it scary to young girls. The film is relatable to young women and honestly, it’s fun to see a story dive into events that so many of us have dealt with and can understand on a personal level. 

One of my favorite parts of the film is the portrayal of friendship between Meilin and her three best friends: Priya, Miriam, and Abbey. It’s with their help she initially realizes that calming her emotions is the only way to control the panda, which is important throughout the story. It is beautiful to see the connection they have, and just how strong their friendship is. Girls at their age often turn to their friends for help and comfort in difficult times, as they understand what you are going through in a way no one else can. My best friends often do the same for me, and that support system means the world, especially when you are navigating the unknown. To see how Meilin’s friends instantly support her and stay by her side is heartwarming. 

The Walt Disney Company and that of its Pixar partnership have brought countless memorable moments, but watching the subject matter in their film go into new territories, here representing not only the mad world of teen girls but that of Meilin’s Chinese heritage is wonderful to see! This film is fantastic, and the extraordinary team behind it has so much to be proud of!

Julianne is a Senior at William Paterson, majoring in Public Relations. She is one of the Co-Campus Correspondents for the Universities chapter, and also serves as the President of the Student Public Relations Association. She has always loved to write and enjoys sharing her passions with the Her Campus community!