What Pixar’s Tuning Red Means to Me, a Chinese-Canadian Animation Fan

Posted on April 9, 2022

Attention animation fans! Pixar Animations Studios has just released their newest feature-film Turning Red on the streaming platform Disney+ on March 11th, 2022. Set in 2002, this film follows 13 year-old Chinese Canadian Meilin “Mei” Lee, who is caught in a rift between being the perfect daughter her mother expects her to be and being a fun loving, carefree teenager. On top of that, Mei also has the good fortune of turning into a giant red panda whenever she gets too excited! Starring Rosalie Chiang as Meilin and Sandrah Oh as her loving but overbearing mother, Turning Red is a great film to watch for anyone, regardless of age. 

Image Credit: IMDb

What’s so cool about this movie is that it is historic for many different reasons-Turning Red is the very first Pixar film that was directed by a woman, the first Pixar film that starred an Asian character, the Pixar film to take place in Canada, and the first Pixar film to mention menstruation. Now that’s a lot of firsts!

Pixar and animation fans may recognize the film’s director, Domee Shi, who directed the Academy Award winning short film Bao, which was released in 2018. Shi is a graduate of Sheridan Animation, and said that her experience as an Asian woman living in Canada-specifically Toronto-has greatly influenced Turning Red’s narrative. 

When I first watched Turning Red, I was immediately struck by how much I could relate to Mei. As someone who grew up watching Pixar films, there weren’t many characters who looked like me. So seeing Mei was a wonderful experience-I too was that little Chinese girl with a short haircut, glasses, who played the flute and loved bands when I was 13. It was a really cool experience to see aspects of myself reflected back to me through this character. 

Image Credit: IMDb

A lot of the criticisms towards this film is that its story is too “niche” and can only be relatable to a very minimal audience (a.k.a the Asian-Canadian audience). In my opinion, this way of viewing media, especially Western media, is incredibly limiting-if we all only watched films with characters we related to, many people of colour would have slim to no options. It is because of that reason that it is so important for people of colour to see media that we feel like we are represented in, as we are so used to having our stories not being prioritized. Film is one of the many mediums that can provide its audiences with the stories and perspectives of different people and cultures, and by engaging with those stories we continue to enrich our own experiences. 

Representation does not just stop there-the film has been applauded for its South Asian and Korean characters, who appear as Mei’s friends within the film. Additionally, users on Twitter have also praised the film for including characters with diabetes patches. It is through representation that Turning Red continues to celebrate the diversity of the city that we all love and the people within it. 

Image Credit: IMDb

In the year 2022, it may be surprising that we still are having so “firsts” when it comes to topics and conversation that concern representation, especially for people of colour. Regardless, we can still applaud the lengths Pixar is making towards diversity, inclusion, and representation, and hope that we can all continue to strive for a world where everyone can feel celebrated within the media that they love. As a Chinese-Canadian myself, this film was a lovely watch and something I didn’t know I needed until I saw it. Many of my friends who share this identity with me had the same take away. 

Filled with beautiful animation, expressive and lively characters, fun original music written and red panda cuteness, this film is a great watch for anyone who wants to not only have fun, but have a good cry too. Turning Red perfectly captures the chaos and absurdity that is being 13. 

Stream Turning Red on Disney+ now! 

Image Credit: IMDb

Posted in Blog.

Karlie (she/her) is a 2nd year Media Production student with an affinity for horror movies, creative writing, manga, and spaghetti-not necessarily in that order. In her free time, Karlie likes to make art, listen to music, read, walk laps around the Eaton Centre Indigo, and hang out with her spoiled tuxedo cat named Jasmine.