DISCLAIMER: While this post shouldn’t be considered a typical in-depth movie review, it does contain spoilers. If you haven’t seen this movie but plan to, continue reading at your own risk.
I recently viewed the Disney Pixar movie Turning Red with my tween daughter. I admit that I was a little late to the game—the film was released on Disney+ in March 2022. I’d put off seeing it or allowing my child to watch it because I’d read several scathing reviews about the movie from other moms on various social media platforms.
They said things like, “I watched this with my child and was mortified”; “My kids and I started to watch it, and I turned it off within the first five minutes”; and “This movie was inappropriate on so many levels, talking about things like ‘puberty’ and being ‘boy crazy’ and glorifying kids talking back to their parents.” Another review I read said that the people behind this movie “should be ashamed of themselves.”
You can see why I was more than a little hesitant to allow my own child to watch it, right?
I came across other reviews that I found slightly disturbing and worth mentioning for the sake of this post. Some said things like, “This movie is telling young ladies that they’re in control of their bodies, and I found that disturbing” (yes, you read that correctly); “Disgusting! There was a reference to menstrual periods”; and “‘Turning Red’ is demonic, and all Christians should avoid seeing it.”
Now, before I go any further, I want to let you know that I am a Christian by definition. This means that I believe in and follow the teachings of Jesus Christ, making me a “Christian,” but I actually prefer the term Believer instead. I do not agree with nor do I participate in intolerance of other cultures and religions. Insulting an entire people by calling their beliefs demonic is not okay.
After giving it some thought, I decided to watch the movie with my daughter, look for teachable moments within it, and have a conversation with her about those moments afterward.
I started the movie in “mama bear mode”—a little apprehensive, expecting to be appalled then compelled to turn it off. But at the end of the movie, I was pleasantly surprised and a little confused as to what all the fuss was about.
Turning Red is a coming-of-age movie about a 13-year-old Chinese-Canadian girl named Meilin who is actively trying to find her voice while under the ever-watchful eye of her well-meaning but overbearing mother, Ming—a woman who is the epitome of helicopter parenting. One day, while experiencing some intense emotions, Meilin spontaneously becomes a big red panda, and understandably, freaks completely out.
Upon realizing what has happened, Ming is forced to divulge a family secret she’s been avoiding sharing for some time. For generations, the women in their family have morphed into red pandas after feeling intense emotions, particularly anger. Ming goes on to explain to her daughter that a female ancestor asked the gods to give her the power of the red panda so that she could protect her children and village during a time of war. The ancestor’s request was granted and, from then on, the power and form of the red panda were passed down to the women from generation to generation.
The women of Meilin’s family began to view the red panda as a curse. They found a way to “get rid of it,” via a ritual that had to be performed during a red moon.
Without giving too much more away, Meilin decides that she doesn’t want to get rid of her red panda but struggles with how to tell her mother. A “series of events” brings things to a head, and Meilin has no choice but to inform her mother of her choice. Ming doesn’t take the news well at all. Epic drama ensues, Meilin rebels against her mother, and Ming finally begins to see the rift that has existed for quite some time between her and her daughter.
Eventually, both mother and daughter are forced to face themselves and each other before healing, reconciliation, and mutual understanding can begin.
As I said, I expected to be appalled by the movie. I expected to have to turn it off and watch Moana with my daughter instead. But, none of that happened.
What did happen is that I laughed—hard—with my daughter. I remembered myself as a 13-year-old girl gushing over R&B groups like New Edition, Troop, Shai, Boyz II Men, and boy bands like NKOTB. I recalled learning about puberty in health class. I thought of the boys I had the biggest crushes on. I remembered desperately wanting to please my mother and withholding my thoughts and feelings from her, unsure of how to express myself or how she might take it.
I remembered all of that, while giggling and snickering with my firstborn child, and was baffled by the fuss. And, while I truly respect every mom’s right to raise and care for her children as she sees fit, I do think the outrage over Turning Red was blown out of proportion and possibly caused those mothers to miss out on the opportunity to bond and have a candid conversation with their daughters.
I also believe that the outrage further exposed the intolerance toward other human beings who don’t look or worship like us and the cultural insensitivity many people wear like a badge of honor.
Not going to lie. That saddened me.
My Unsolicited Advice That You’re Choosing to Read Anyway 😉
After watching this movie, having conversations with other moms who’ve seen it, and reading many reviews against it, as well as for it, I’ve arrived at some conclusions and pieces of mom-to-mom advice for my readers.
Just because it’s a Disney Pixar movie, that doesn’t mean it’s appropriate for all ages.
Several of the complaints I saw mentioned parents watching Turning Red with toddlers or little kids between the ages of five and seven years old. However, the movie is clearly a coming-of-age story that is suited to tweens and younger teenagers, not little kids.
Watch it before they watch it.
If you’re concerned about a particular television show or new movie coming out, googling and reading reviews from other parents is a good idea. An even better idea, however, would be to watch the movie before your children to decide if it’s appropriate for your crew or not. You can also do what I did and watch the movie with your kid but explain to them that, if you find anything inappropriate, you reserve the right to shut it down. Use your judgment.
Practice cultural mindfulness, not cultural intolerance.
The thing I love about some of the more recent Disney movies is that they highlight other cultures and skin tones. This should spark cultural mindfulness within us, but sadly, that doesn’t always appear to be the case.
In his LinkedIn article Cultural Mindfulness: Going Beyond Cultural Stereotyping, psychologist Jung Kabigting defines cultural mindfulness as “a state of being mindful of, first, your own cultural construct, and second, the cultural constructs of the other person you are interacting with at the moment of such interaction. It simply means basing your reaction or response to the actual stimuli (the other person) without the baggage of cultural stereotyping.”
When we condemn cultural depictions that do not match our own views and values, we are engaging in cultural intolerance and insensitivity and passing that attitude down to our children. Yuck!
The thing is, you don’t have to agree with or participate in something to acknowledge that it exists. Furthermore, acknowledging the existence of that thing doesn’t diminish your thing. To put it more plainly, your beliefs shouldn’t be shaken or threatened by other religious beliefs. If your religious beliefs are that fragile … are they really what you believe?
Don’t be afraid to look for and lean into teachable moments whenever possible.
A few years ago, while watching Maleficent with Angelina Jolie, my daughter asked me how Disney could make a movie about a villain. I instantly seized the opportunity for a teachable moment and began explaining to her how the movie, while fictional, is a great illustration of how hurting people often hurt others. Sometime later, she remembered this lesson when interacting with a classmate who had begun to lash out at her and other classmates after some unexpected changes had taken place in their life.
During Turning Red, I asked my daughter, “How do you feel about that?” and “What do you think I would say if this were you and me?” After a particular scene when Meilin raised her voice and then ran away from her mother, my daughter said, “I don’t think I’d be comfortable with that, Mom. You always let me talk it out with you, so I don’t think I would do that. Plus, you would worry about me if I ran away like that, wouldn’t you?”
My insides did a happy dance when she said this, but I kept my cool and continued to watch the movie.
Ultimately, mamas, my point is this: watching Turning Red and movies like it with your children presents opportunities to bond with them by giving them the space to talk to us about “the awkward stuff.” We are their first line of defense. If they don’t get certain information from us—or don’t feel like they can—they will get the information from somewhere else. That information could be false, incomplete, and/or to their detriment.
Lastly, you may not agree with everything you see, but your willingness to acknowledge the existence of practices different from your own puts you in a better position to provide guidance to your children in that area, as well.
Even if, after reading this, you still think the movie is inappropriate, that’s cool. As I said, I respect every mama’s right to raise her babies as she sees fit. I’m just here to inspire you to keep an open mind and heart while doing it.
Love you. Mean it.
Do you have questions or comments about what you’ve just read? Is there anything you would add? Feel free to comment below! I would love to hear from and respond to you.
ResilienceEveryday.com is a mompreneur mental health and lifestyle blog. We regularly post about mental health awareness, parenting with a mental illness, special needs parenting, and the mompreneur lifestyle. CLICK HERE to join the mailing list today and never miss a post or the latest news on book launches, product releases, events, and more.