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"Turning Red," a Coming-of-Age Story Teaches Important Life Lessons


All of the previous women in Meilin’s family gave up their panda and so they expect Meilin to do the same. They believe that they are not capable of keeping their pandas at bay when emotions are heightened. (Credit: BBC)

*Warning: this article contains spoilers*

Everyone is familiar with the awkwardness that comes with being a preteen. Add an overbearing mother who will not let you make your own decisions and you have got a recipe for disaster. This is the life of 13 year old Meilin, Mei Mei to her family, Lee. Her mother, Ming Lee, has been the center of Meilin’s life and the influence behind almost all of her actions.

However, things take a turn when one day, Meilin turns into a giant red panda after a fight with her mother. Ming explains that one of their ancestors, Sun Lee, asked the gods to become a red panda and now all women in her family become a red panda, too, when they are coming of age and full of emotions.

The only way to get rid of the panda is to perform a ritual during the red moon, but if you bring out the panda too many times before then, there is a risk that the ritual fails and you are stuck with the red panda-trait for good.

While her family wants Meilin to give up her panda when the time comes, Meilin is not sure if that is what she wants.

During the course of the movie we see a number of themes presented. Here are some of the ones that stood out.

Friendships are important

In the film, Meilin has a core group of friends: Miriam, Priya, and Abby. When Meilin turns into the red panda, she is extremely embarrassed and doesn’t want to be seen by anyone, including her friends. When her friends come to her house to check on her, she tells them everything about her family lineage.

Her friends reassure her that they love her and will always be there for her, “Panda or no panda.”

Their unconditional love and support is what helps Meilin battle through this time and the troubles she is facing with her mother. They have fun together, they fight together, but most importantly they love one another. Having friends that you trust and can depend on during this stage in life is crucial.

Be true to yourself

There is a metaphor in the movie that illustrates that one should keep their true personalities away for fear of what others may think.

At the beginning of the film, Meilin went along with this and would put off things she really wanted to do — like karaoke with her friends — for things that her mother wanted her to do.

Over the course of the movie, Meilin begins to realize that she is in control of her own thoughts and her own decisions, not her mother. This is why, in the end, she decides to keep her panda because that is what she wanted to do. By doing so, Meilin remained true to herself and began paving the way for her future.

Growing up is not easy

Oftentimes, adolescence is seen as a time of carelessness and lightheartedness, when in reality, that is not always the case.

Puberty comes with a lot of unforeseen responsibilities: managing your emotions, balancing relationships, new sexual attractions, raging hormones; the list goes on.

There are times when life gets hard and it feels like the weight of the world is on your shoulders. In the film there are times when Meilin lets her emotions get the better of her and that is okay. At that stage of life, you are still figuring out how to navigate all these complex feelings.

Turning Red shows the harsh reality of what it is like to grow up. There are tears, there is heartbreak and there is anger. However, growing up is not completely horrible. There are good times to be had and valuable lessons to be learned.

As Meilin said: “we’ve all got a messy, loud, weird part of ourselves hidden away. And a lot of us never let it out. But I did. How about you?”

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