‘Turning Red’: learning how to normalize puberty

Disney’s new film ‘Turning Red,’ attracts controversy while dealing with a new topic never portrayed by Disney productions.

Graphic by Maria Krug '22

Disney’s new film ‘Turning Red,’ attracts controversy while dealing with a new topic never portrayed by Disney productions.

When looking at the scope of films created by Disney and Pixar, we see little variety among them. Sure, there have been more inclusive films over the years, displaying different communities, but oftentimes the plot is the same. 

Now imagine a movie about a 13-year-old Chinese girl living in Toronto facing the challenges of puberty as a young woman. Well, let me introduce you to the new Disney movie, “Turning Red.” 

Released in February 2022, this new hit movie caught the eyes of many Disney fans as well as sparked some controversy among watchers. In the film, Meilin Lee, the main character of the show, turns into a red panda bear, meant to represent her reaching womanhood and getting her period for the first time. 

Meilin’s mom, upon learning what had occurred with her daughter, tries to aid her throughout the process; however she ends up making the situation quite uncomfortable for Meilin. The portrayal of womanhood and how Meilin deals with it perfectly adds to the message the creator of the film aimed at: normalizing puberty. 

However, it was when “Turning Red” began growing in popularity that many decided to share their controversial opinions online, explaining how the movie was “limiting.” 

Sean O’Connell, managing editor of CinemaBlend, wrote in a review that the movie only appealed to a specific demographic. “By rooting ‘Turning Red’ very specifically in the Asian community of Toronto, the film legitimately feels like it was made for Domee Shi’s friends [the director of the movie] and immediate family members. Which is fine — but also, a tad limiting in its scope,” O’Connell said. Upon receiving backlash after writing the review, it was quickly taken down and the Editor in Chief of CinemaBlend apologized for what O’Connell wrote. 

“Turning Red” is one of the few movies that has recently helped Disney expand and diversify their library of films, not only by touching on a rare topic portrayed in kids television but also by highlighting the first Pixar production directed and produced by a woman, Domee Shi. ”

— Maria Krug '22


“Turning Red” is one of the few movies that has recently helped Disney expand and diversify their library of films, not only by touching on a rare topic portrayed in kids television but also by highlighting the first Pixar production directed and produced by a woman, Domee Shi. 

Not only does the movie deal with aspects of puberty, but it  also touches upon topics like generational trauma, showcasing Meilin’s Chinese heritage and all that comes with it. Meilin’s best friends also come from many different backgrounds, aiding in the diversification and inclusivity the film has to offer. 

Meilin’s experience through self discovery is a heartfelt journey displayed by Disney and Pixar which should be portrayed more often in children’s movies. Exposing them to topics such as these will only support the normalization of puberty and topics not often showcased in Disney movies.