MESSAGE IN THE MOVIES
If you have yet to see Turning Red, the latest film from Disney/Pixar, I am sure that you have heard that one of the themes of this movie is puberty, including not only mood swings but also menstruation. Although “Mei” Lee – the girl who is at the heart of this story – is 13 years old, Turning Red avoids the crude language and sexual innuendo of a PG-13 rating and opts for a gentler PG approach.
This movie is filled with lush visual images, depicting 2002 Toronto in stunning detail (including a beautiful Buddhist temple) as well as some clever character designs.
Meilin (voiced by Rosalie Chiang) is the only daughter of Ming (Sandra Oh) and Jin (Orion Lee), a Chinese Canadian family. Ming dotes on her daughter and expects nothing but the best from her. It is apparent that Mei is only too happy to strive to be exemplary in overachievement, even if it tends to isolate her from a lot of the kids at school. She has her inner circle of BFFs, including Abby (Hyein Park), Miriam (Ava Morse), and Priya (Maitreyi Ramakrishnan).
It takes a few minutes at first for Mei to introduce everyone and set the stage for the story to follow. I should actually say the stories to follow. Turning Red has a lot of mood swings of its own; I felt that every 20 minutes or so we were getting a different kind of movie.
Early in the film, Mei develops her first crush on an older boy who works at a convenience store, drawing his picture in her class notebook. Feelings begin to bring on the changes that turn her into a giant panda. As Mei frantically tries to make sense of things from behind her closed bedroom door, her anguished cries are misinterpreted by her mother who asks: “Did the red peony bloom?” Mei cries out: “NO!” In fact, menstruation hasn’t started – and it won’t arrive during the rest of the movie’s running time. But this miscommunication sets up some awkward scenes involving feminine hygiene products. Hoo boy.
No worries. The film soon drops this subject altogether, never to return. It then changes course and moves on to Mei and her friends’ efforts to raise money to attend a concert featuring their favorite boy band 4*Town. (The group actually has five singers including Finneas O’Connell who wrote the three original songs with his sister Billie Eilish.)
As it gets closer to concert time, Turning Red shift gears to reveal some secrets about the why and how of Mei’s panda-monium transformation, leading up to a spectacular and exciting conclusion. Unfortunately, writer-director Domee Shi’s original mythology about the red panda gets in the way of its appreciation of Buddhist spirituality and meditation. Awkward.
That’s the word for Turning Red, an awkward film with an awkward title about an awkward time of life, showing up inconveniently only on the Disney+ subscription service. Even film distribution is undergoing a change of life right now.
Halo and Pitchfork Rating:
Three halos: An honest depiction of the scary moment when tweens turn into teens.
Two pitchforks: Menstruation humor; relatable but extreme mother-daughter conflict; endorsement of high concert ticket prices; confusing theology.
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Rev. Bruce Batchelor-Glader
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