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'Turning Red': Does this make you uncomfortable?

Edited by GreenReaper as of Wed 30 Mar 2022 - 00:02
Your rating: None Average: 2.9 (12 votes)

Turning Red Does this sound familiar?

Pixar's newest movie is a woman-directed, coming-of-age film where a red-headed daughter finds herself rebelling against an overbearing mother during the course of an adventure involving human-to-animal transformation of a bear-like nature; that worked out so well for all involved last time.

Let's see: they replaced Brenda Chapman half-way through production, and her career still hasn't recovered; the movie was the first non-Cars Pixar movie to not reach a 90% on Rotten Tomatoes; and, most importantly, readers didn't like my review of it very much. Seriously, the best thing to come out of Brave was the line "She's from the other studio." in Ralph Breaks the Internet, which unfortunately was the best thing to come out of Ralph Breaks the Internet.

Still, it's been a few months shy of a decade since Brave came out, and it sure has been a decade for Pixar. Domee Shi is Pixar's second woman director, and is actually the sole director this time. Turning Red tells the story of Meilin "Mei" Lee (voiced by Rosalie Chiang), a Canadian girl whose female family members are both blessed and... inconvenienced by the ability to transform into a red panda when experiencing strong emotions after hitting puberty. It's available to stream on Disney+.

I'm going to be honest here, but when I first saw the trailer, I knew this movie was not for me. In my defense, my reaction boiled down to "I'm getting old." An issue with reviewing mainstream furry movies is that, for the most part, a critic is discussing movies where the primary audience is children, but discussing them for an audience that's primarily not. The movie felt aimed at the current generation, which is understandable, as that's the target audience. I'm a thirty-something with no children of my own. I can accept this movie literally is not for me. And seeing as how Pixar's next movie is Lightyear, a movie designed to appeal to my generation's nostalgia for the Toy Story movies, I really have nothing to complain about.

So, I'm not going to. In fact, of the two, Turning Red doing something I'm not familiar with sounds a lot more exciting than Lightyear doing something I am. But, going back to reviewing children's movies for adults, this is the movie where we're going to need to get into the primary audience versus secondary audience discussion. The movie is surprisingly blunt about it, so I might as well be.

This is a movie about puberty, and Mei's panda transformations are tied to this. While I wouldn't go so far as to say a kid watching this who does not know what menstruation is will know what it is after, and the word "period" isn't uttered, there are explicit mentions and even depictions of pads and the other accoutrements of female hygiene. If that makes you uncomfortable, you might want to pass on this movie. Me, I'm fine with it going there, and think the movie approaching these issues realistically in addition to metaphorically makes it a possible teaching tool for its target audience. Though, once again, that's the opinion of one non-parent, for what that's worth.

From a furry perspective, however, I found the movie surprisingly relatable. Besides the generational gap between the character's viewpoint and my own, there's also national (Canada vs. USA), cultural, ethnic and racial (Chinese vs. white Midwesterner), gender (female vs. male), and even religious (Buddhist vs. Christian) differences between me and the protagonist, and yet the specifics of the story make the universality of the experiences described hit harder. It's a coming-of-age story.

The central conflict is between a mother and a daughter reacting to the changes brought on by the daughter's transformation. The fact that this transformation is literally into an animal is why I'm reviewing this for furries, but even for "oh, no, I've turned into an animal!" stories, this one feels like it's a furry story. It turns out transforming into a red panda is an ability that Mei's family has been giving up for generations now. At first, Mei is quite ready for this, but eventually, she learns she likes being the panda. She transforms on the sly, keeping it a secret from her parents, until it's no longer possible. She must make a choice as to whether she wants to be a good girl for her mother, or if she keeps being the panda. "Will I regret this?" she asks.

Mel as a giant red panda running through school corridors and crying
Mei having a bad fur day. Line art by Tom Gately.

Oh, just every day of your life, little sister. But some things are worth regretting.

Well, enough about the psycho-drama, let's actually talk about Brave some more. Besides the obvious improvement of hiring a woman to tell a female story and then, you know, letting her actually tell it, one of my original complaints about Brave - and Pixar in general - is how sterile they feel. Pixar's animated movies just don't feel that animated to me. They don't feel like cartoons. And you can like that, a lot of people do, but, once again, Lightyear is right there, so it looks like you're getting that style this year anyway. But, as for Turning Red, well, does it feel like a cartoon?

At one point, our protagonist, in red panda form, begins twerking aggressively at her own mother. "Does this make you uncomfortable?" she asks. I mean, thanks for asking, but I doubt this would be even the first time I've seen the keywords "red panda" "twerking" and "mother" together thanks to e621. But, also, thanks for actually coming out to play for once.

Note: This movie is streaming only, but was originally meant for theatrical release [it instead has a limited engagement at El Capitan and Empire], and I'm actually kind of upset about that. Obviously, stay safe in the still not really finished Covid-19 pandemic, and if you don't feel comfortable going to theaters just yet, don't, but Disney has been releasing movies theatrically for over a year now, and it's only the post-Lassiter Pixar films that are consistently being sent to Disney+ like this, which feels a little bit iffy to me.

Comments

Your rating: None Average: 2 (3 votes)

This is the stealth requel to my Madagascar 3/Brave/Rise of the Guardians "Furry Jesus" trilogy of movie reviews.

Your rating: None Average: 5 (2 votes)

My sister turns 32 this year and the entire boy-band-chasing early-cell-phone-culture she said felt entirely targeted at her. It was set in 2002!

Your rating: None Average: 5 (1 vote)

I was looking forward to seeing this in cinema (my first exposure was via the teaser trailer (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pqdHP2dWQ9M ) which i thought had better pacing (perhaps it was the element of mystery?).
I was annoyed that it wasn't getting released in cinemas, and wondered who at Disney hated Pixar.

Every few days i find myself rechecking Cineplex's (major cinema chain) website to see if someone has changed their mind and Turning Red is showing in local cinemas.

Your rating: None Average: 4 (1 vote)

My impression is cinemas still see themselves as the première channel for movies. Eventually they'll realise that this is now streaming, at least for certain groups/topics, and especially with everyone spending more time at home; so they'll be lucky to get access to it a week or two after subscribers - at least for the percentage of revenue share they can afford, or are willing to pay. Of course, I could be entirely off-base here - I'm no film buff - but I always understood content was king, while the distribution method and medium may vary.

Your rating: None Average: 3 (2 votes)

I think that a lot of people that work in the movie industry also see cinemas as the "home" for movies; the Academy Awards will almost certainly require theatrical releases for the foreseeable future. They also, historically, see themselves as "artists", not "businesspeople", even producers and heads of studios. So, content may be king for making money, but it may not necessarily be be king for making good movies. Now, there is a cultural change, and a lot of movie studios now are part of giant corporate conglomerates run by CEOs beholden to stockholders where the primary goal is now making money.

I keep bringing up the Oscars because that's my deal, but a lot of people complaining, say, Spider-Man: No Way Home was not nominated for Best Picture are missing that, besides Kevin Feige basically just saying it deserves it because it deserves it, Marvel and Disney just aren't playing the Oscar game. Oscar campaigns are expensive; when the goal is to make a bajillion-kajillion dollars (and not just at the box office, either), spending a couple million on an FYC campaign is actually counterproductive. In that way, yeah, the people at the top of the totem pole probably wish the theaters would just die already so they can concentrate on the streaming service that actually makes them money.

That isn't the case with actual filmmakers. And I don't mean just directors and producers, but production designers and hair stylists and even fucking caterers, for that matter. Christopher Nolan, back in 2020, was screaming to get Tenet into theaters during the height of the pandemic, and that mostly seemed like it was just him being an asshole, but he did kind of retreat and come back with an actual good reason that skipping theaters does hurt filmmakers. Most of the them are paid on residuals, so first they get paid by the theaters rental fees. Then they get paid whenever a TV channel wants to air it. Then they get paid whenever a streaming service wants to stream it. Physical media sales probably figure in there too. When a company makes a movie and then sends it straight to a streaming service they own, they maximize profits ... by fucking over the people who actually made the movie. (This is why movie studios are not allowed to own theater chains in America.)

Which is exactly what Disney is doing to Pixar right now.

This is especially galling when said filmmakers are told their movie was theatrical, only to be informed, whoops, no it's not. They aren't even doing the Raya and the Last Dragon $35 fee thing.

This is just a random note that didn't really fit anywhere else, but AMC, the largest theater chain in America, also has a streaming service, so they are also aware of their precarious situation.

Your rating: None Average: 2.7 (10 votes)

"If [menstruation] makes you uncomfortable, you might want to pass on this movie."

You're telling us about *your* discomfort. Consider:

"There's a gay couple in this movie. If that makes you uncomfortable...."

Only somebody who thinks such objections are reasonable would put this in.

You're making excuses for people who want to silence a near-universal experience of women. That's unfortunate.

Your rating: None Average: 3.1 (7 votes)

It is reasonable, since it's not an objection, but a warning. Some people don't like and don't want to see gay content. That shouldn't be a bar to its publication - which seems to be what you are implying by "silence" - but you also shouldn't have to pay to see something you don't like. Likewise, if you are surprised by content you dislike, having had no opportunity to avoid it, the likely reaction will be negative. (This is something I know well from another content-based site that I lead.)

More generally, part of the purpose of a reviewer is to give you an idea of whether you'll like the movie, which includes a discussion of its topics and themes. This is part of why movies have content advisories, but themes may not align precisely with these, and ratings alone are clearly not enough (I believe Turning Red is rated PG for "suggestive content", which could be a lot of things).

On IMDB, period-related content is the first thing mentioned in the first content advisory section in the parents' guide, Sex & Nudity; so clearly other people think it is a theme to be aware of in this movie. (In fact, it's mentioned in the sections for Gore and Fright, too.)

From one review from someone asserted to be 13 years old, who thinks it is suitable for ages 15+:

It started to get weird when, within the first 20 or so minutes, talks about periods and pads comes up. Honestly, I find that so unnecessary. Puberty is a private thing that shouldn't be displayed in a children's movie, no matter if it's about a boy going through it or a girl. I'm not saying that periods should be hidden or girls should be ashamed, I just don't like the idea of them being brought up in the manner that they were.

Of course, on the Internet, anyone can be anything - this is from a new user - and they do not represent the consensus view (10+) of "kids". But it is not a surprising viewpoint; and I suspect that the reviewer is aware of that, and accommodating it, which does not equate to agreeing with it.

Your rating: None Average: 2.3 (9 votes)

We disagree.

Some people don't want to see interracial couples. A reviewer who cautions about such content is implicitly saying "This is something we need to protect children from."

I don't feel that way about periods: You (and this reviewer) do. I find that unfortunate.

Your rating: None Average: 2.8 (6 votes)

I don't see GreenReaper's WANTING to protect kids from periods; he's just speaking on what those who do believe. No need to shoot the messenger.

Ditto 2cross, who in this very review says after the line you quoted:

Me, I'm fine with it going there, and think the movie approaching these issues realistically in addition to metaphorically makes it a possible teaching tool for its target audience. Though, once again, that's the opinion of one non-parent, for what that's worth.

I personally don't think it needed to be brought up, it's only a few jokes early on in the movie's runtime. Plus I can point to Dreamworks and Illumination movies that get away with far more ribald sex humor that these iMDb reviewers probably have no umbrage taking their kids to see; at least menstruation jokes are useful. But I don't think it's useful to paint 2cross and GR with the same brush as these people, especially when they explicitly say they disagree..

Your rating: None Average: 2.3 (7 votes)

> I'm fine with it going there

And I'm fine with interracial dating.

So why would I bring it up and then soothe the feelings of those who aren't?

Your rating: None Average: 3.2 (5 votes)

And who says he's capitulating to these feelings?

You're getting awfully strung out over one line (which, rereading feels less like a genuine tip for viewers and more like a rhetorical statement) in a positive review of this film in order to paint the writer, and anyone who points out what he was trying to convey, as pearl-clutching bigots, completely misrepresenting their intentions and demonstrating a proud lack of reading comprehension. To be honest, I thought you had a point there at the beginning but it's quickly evaporated.

Your rating: None Average: 5 (2 votes)

I feel disappointed in myself for taking this long to figure out what 'turning red' actually meant as a pun/metaphor.

Clever girl.

Your rating: None Average: 5 (1 vote)

They didn't even use any blue-tinted liquid, the magically safe substitute for all human effluvia that everyone uses in ads for maxi pads and diapers!

Your rating: None Average: 5 (2 votes)

I just finished watching Turning Red, and wanted to share my thoughts while they're still fresh. Like Crossie, I am definitely not this film's target demographic, but I enjoyed it all the same. Audience reactions on Rotten Tomatoes are a little low - it seems to be mostly from conservative parents rejecting to children bucking parental authority, abandoning family values, and becoming their own person instead of who their parents want them to become. Of course this is the whole point of the film, and ignores the plot points that Mei wants to continue to maintain the family temple and tradition - just as her own person.

The overbearing nature of Mei's mother is controlling and uncomfortable, bordering on toxic, while in comparison that Mei's friends seem to be doing ok. We don't get to meet their parents, but their level of teenage rebellion seems pretty tame, and they seem to be living happier lives. Resultingly, Mei's rebellion is more extreme, because her mental shackles have been tighter. There's also the suggestion that Mei's mother's issues are the direct result of her mother, showing the dangers of how family problems can linger for more than one generation. (I was not happy that the grandmother was never confronted with this at the end.) The relationship between mother and child, and the difficulty of letting go, is also the subject of director Domee Shi's earlier 2018 animated short, Bao, which I found very powerful to watch, and to me it felt more artistically strong than The Incredibles 2 that followed it in the theater.

While the moral of Turning Red is spelled out somewhat obviously at a couple of points, it's also loose enough that it can be interpreted metaphorically in several ways, which I think will really click with young adult and teen audiences who might welcome a little encouragement if they're trying to establish their identity, often a long, drawn-out process. Although Mei isn't a were-beast, there are similar narrative parallels - this has been used before to stand in for things, like troubled teen years, for homosexuality, and so on (Teen Wolf, Ginger Snaps, etc).

I also noticed that right after Turning Red came out, many women on Twitter were happy to see that it's a film that actively acknowledges women's first periods - which as Crossie mentions, is done rather tastefully. Still, that was also part of the contention on the negative Rotten Tomatoes reviews - parents upset that their younger kids started to ask questions about what the pads were about. I can understand that reaction. Some parents obviously have their own ideal timeline about the topic (or want to avoid it entirely) - but it's important to note that in the film, Mei's mother also had been avoiding the topic, and now regretted holding off on it for too long.

Anyway, overall this film was a positive watch for me. The pacing felt a little slow at the start, but give it time, the momentum builds, it's gradual. Story-wise it felt fairly standard, albeit with its own flair and style, some good jokes and some good emotional feels along the way. I wouldn't say I ever felt overwhelmed or blown away, but it made me feel for Mei, it made me concerned, it made me smile. The design of people's faces all felt kinda... doughy, except for the sharp features of the grandmother, maybe that was deliberate to make it stand out.

As to the Canadian placing of the film... it's really, really difficult to make a film feel Canadian, because like furry fans, there's no singular Canadian. We're a very spread out country with a lot of regional stuff that doesn't carry over to the rest of the country. The Canadian experience is rather... abstract, and I don't even know how to express it, much less suggest how to do so in a film. It's easier in comedies where you're exaggerating things about it, like with Bob & Doug McKenzie, Canadian Bacon, Corner Gas, Letterkenny... (I haven't watched Schitt's Creek).

The difficulty of trying to express the Canadian experience has been going on for a long time. There was a Michael Moore TV show where he went up to Canada and asked multiple people if they could recommend a good Canadian restaurant. Everyone he asked got a confused, distant expression, and after a long pause would say things like "Well, there's a good Chinese place down the street...". (Eventually someone mentioned poutine, with resigned reluctance.) Or another time, a national radio station had a contest. Looking for the equivalent of "As American as apple pie," they asked their Canadian listeners to complete the sentence "As Canadian as...", the winner being "possible, under the circumstances".

But when you leave comedy and start wandering into action and drama, it becomes a lot harder to get the Canadian feeling right. Scott Pilgrim vs. The World had some obvious forced Toronto things, like Casa Loma and Lee's Palace, but that's not what clicked for me. Instead, it was a shot of a residential street and a scene that took place in a low-budget student apartment, that felt like Toronto, and I don't know if anyone from outside Toronto would have gotten that vibe. Similarly, after watching a season of Orphan Black, I was getting a weird, subtle Toronto feeling from it, and sure enough, when I looked it up, that's where it was filmed.

Actually I'm kind of curious how my fellow Canadians will feel about Turning Red. On the one hand, they might think, "Yay! A film that actually takes place in Canada!" followed by "...Why did it have to be in Toronto?!" Because almost all Canadians outside Toronto, if they have only one thing in common, is hating Toronto. If you expand that set to all Canadians (including Torontonians), then what we share is a resentment of the United States, often asserted with a kind of passive-aggressive sense of humour.

Toronto and Vancouver both stand in for a lot of American productions. After a while you learn to recognize the arches of Brookfield Place in Toronto, and the Vancouver Public Library. I was upset at a scene in Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium that took place on a street I knew, yet the producers had decided to use special effects to change how half the block looked, which felt completely unnecessary. Another time, I came back to my neighbourhood very late at night, extremely worn out and sleep-deprived from a long trip, only to find that an entire restaurant's storefront had been completely changed to something else, and there was now a European-style advertizing column on the corner, covered with German graffiti. I really didn't need that confusion from what turned out to be for an episode of Relic Hunter.

Anyway, Toronto and Canadian stuff was shoved everywhere into Turning Red, but it didn't feel Canadian. This could have taken place in any North American city with a large sports stadium. Still, it was obvious they'd done research. Brick buildings, the streetcars and garbage cans. The style of street stairways around Spadina and Dundas. I can't speak for the accuracy of the SkyDome, because I've never gone in there (by deliberate choice). But like I said, it's so difficult to express the Canadian experience, I really don't know what they could have done. Actually, if you really want to capture that Toronto feeling, you need to include being in a small family-run restaurant, taking a narrow set of stairs into the basement, and wandering through a bizarre series of hallways to find a weirdly-lit bathroom that's not been renovated for twenty years.

And they did show a city with a very multicultural population, something that's very Toronto. And little dialogue touches too. (Did you notice they said "Grade 8" and not "8th grade"?) One major fail though - Mei should have known how to speak Chinese. Kids raised in Toronto, who have parents from cultures outside of Canada, almost all speak two languages.

Plus it's great to have a woman being given directorial control, and being able to tell a story with non-Caucasians. The sad part is I don't think the corporate overlords give a shit; they just see an opportunity to make money, and think the market is safe enough to give this a try - or to appeal to audiences in China. So I don't mind Domee Shi taking full advantage of this window of opportunity, because I hope it leads to more opportunities for others and more variety. Hey, maybe First Nations people will be given a greater voice! (Since The Legend of Sarila was a noble attempt, if underwhelming.

This film also brought up some old memories. Sorry if this is rambling. Even though Toronto is a very multicultural city, I grew up in a very white middle-class neighbourhood, and it took me a while to become aware of white privilege and to realize there were differences in experiences that non-whites were subjected to. Canadian stand-up comedian Russell Peters had a routine were he asked a Chinese guy in his audience for his name (I forget what it was, something neutral like "John"), and then asked, "No, I mean your real name," by which he meant his Chinese name, which society had obviously made him suppress. This was a revelation to me, ruined by the fact that Peters then proceeded to make fun of the guy's name, and I never watched him again because to me that wasn't comedy, it was a dick move.

It reminded me that in the past, I'd had two Chinese friends (Eric and Doug), and I'd never considered the possibility that they might have had other names. They never brought it up. Eric, I knew in elementary school, and we were pretty close, but he never talked about Chinese culture, even though it was part of his family household. (Heck, when his uncle was visiting from China for the first time, I happened to meet him on the bus when he arrived, and was able to give him exact directions to Eric's house.) I remember this one time watching TV with Eric - this was in the early 1980s, when there were a lot of home electronics from Hong Kong. On the TV there was the first episode of a sitcom, with an Asian father and son - which was extremely unusual. But almost immediately the stereotyping was awful. "Oh no son, the VCR is broken!" - "No problem dad, I'll build a new one!" (laugh track). There was an uncomfortable silence between Eric and I. I felt awful being white, and I wondered how often he'd had to put up with this kind of crap. But still, he didn't talk about it. We changed the channel and never spoke of it. A few years later The Goonies came out, and that incident made me hate the character of Data.

Years later, in my later years of high school and early years of college, I had a Chinese friend named Doug. We weren't as close. I thought it was an ok friendship, but in the end it turned out Doug didn't feel like we had that strong a connection, for multiple reasons (some of it was me). There was a time where I didn't see him for a while, and the next time we met, suddenly he verbally attacked me because there were no Asians in major roles in North American movies and television. My whiteness, and lack of awareness of this fact, insulted him deeply. For me, it was upsetting that he could have talked to me about his frustration, but instead he blamed me for, well, existing. In a way, it was also a realization of Oh, this is what racism feels like, and it was nothing in comparion to whatever he had experienced. Could I ever understand his Asian experience? No, obviously never the way he'd felt it, but it didn't mean I couldn't listen.

This was in stark contrast to my friend Adam, who came out of the closet around 1990, not a safe thing back in those days - and he was ok talking to me about it. Could I understand his experience? No, obviously not, but he didn't attack me for lacking that knowledge. Doug, in contrast... I bumped into him on three occasions after that. He never spoke to me once. Screw you, Doug. Over a decade later, when I heard about Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle, the first thing I thought was "Hey Doug, is this the kind of Asian representation you wanted?" I never want to see Doug again, but I do hope he's happier now, wherever he is. I think this is one of the important things to take from Turning Red - being able to talk to friends about things, even if they're uncomfortable, even if they might not relate.

What else. Oh yeah, the furry thing. A good furry film! Really nice things being done with fur textures in a couple of places. Don't want to spoil things about the red panda thing! A good furry watch, yes yes.

Other memories this film brought back... the boy band. Reminded me of Toronto's god-awful mayor Mel Lastman. There's too many stories that could be told there, but sadly when Doug Ford came along, I realized Lastman's awfulness paled in comparison. Anyway, at one point The Spice Girls were coming to perform in Toronto, when suddenly one of them left the group, and Lastman wrote an embarassing letter to them, unctuously pleading, something like "Ginger Spice! Toronto needs you!" Ugghhh. Actually, looking him up, apparently Lastman passed away three months ago. I hope the only legacy of him that survives will be the restaurant health and safety inspection system that got revamped. (Amusingly, the city hall cafeteria was given a warning notice.)

For an amusing parody of boy bands by a Canadian, check out Pop Song, by Jon Lajoie!

Well, this has been some ramble, hasn't it! Check out Turning Red. It's entertaining, and we could all use some of that these days. Good timing for Furnal Equinox this coming weekend!

Your rating: None Average: 5 (1 vote)

I'm from Atlantic Canada, and yeah I agree that the movie didn't really feel canadian in anyway. I didn't even realize it was set in Toronto, the only give aways to me were the Tim Bits and loonies. But I guess that wasn't the point of the movie anyways. It'd be interesting to see something similar to this but in rural, or even semi-rural Canada. But that'd probably be too mature and depressing for a disney/pixar movie lol.

Your rating: None Average: 1 (6 votes)

Without a doubt the most demonic Pixar movie yet. Not only because the main character is a literal demon, but also because the main message of the film is encouraging dissent. Dissent against God, as played by proxy with the parents. Not only is it bad that the father was portrayed as weak and ineffectual against his daughter, but it was even worse that they tried to villify the mother for asserting control over her Antichrist of a spawn. Its too dark and evil for little kids, too confused for teenagers and too childish for adults.

Overall, this gets 0/100.

Your rating: None

Personal thought: Every furry fan should watch the last 120 seconds of this movie just before the credits roll. Those last three lines are such a kicker.

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