‘Turning Red’ The Newcomer of Asian Representation Animated Film
Have you ever watched animated cartoons or films produced by Disney and Pixar? I’ve been a big fan of Disney and Pixar since I was a kid. If we have to think about the animation industry, the first two companies that come to my mind would be Walt Disney and Pixar animation. I grew up with their movies, and I could say that they are a part of my childhood memories. In the past, we could not normally see many Asian characters as main characters in movies. However, time has changed, the way media is delivered also changed. The trend of including Asian culture in the media became more popular. Disney came up with many feature films that consist of Asian characters. For example, Raya and the Last Dragon, Mulan, Over the Moon, and the latest one called “Turning Red.” After Turning Red had been released for a few days, as an obsessive follower, I did not hesitate to watch it ride away. At first, I didn’t expect that much about this movie. But, after I finished watching it, many ideas surprised me a lot.
Turning Red is the newest computer-animated coming-of-age fantasy comedy film produced by Pixar Animation Studios and distributed by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures. Turning Red is the first Asian-lead film over the past 13 years, and also the first Pixar film directed by a solely female director, Domee Shi. She is the first Chinese woman that Pixar allowed her to produce movies by herself. Her past work, Bao, won an academy award for Best Animated Short Film at the 91st Academy Awards. I have no doubt why Pixar let her produce another fantastic movie. In Turning Red, she did a great job in Asian representation with a very detailed element that smoothly blended towards the film.
The brief story of the film is about a 13-year-old Chinese Canadian teenage girl named MeiLin Lee who lives in Toronto in 0the early 200s. It’s about being a perfect daughter or doing what she’s preferred. When the day has come, the curse of her family shows up. She would turn into a giant red panda every time she experienced intense emotion. While you watch the film, you will see a relationship between mother and daughter and a friendship. Also, you will get inspired by many hidden ideas from this movie.
Why did the Asian-lead film become dominant?
In the past few years, Asian hatred has become even more intense. Covid-19 was the factor that led hates to become more aggressive. Those haters believe Asian people are the cause of the pandemic. So, the racism against Asian is even more violent. Even though social diversity was more except for many people across the continent, Asian hatred belief still profoundly roots in the United States. Asian American people were having an insecure life living in the country. They would not know when they would be attacked by random people on the street. There were hate crimes involved with racism. Recently, people intended to be more concerned about social diversity. Then, Asian hatred becomes the center of attention by people globally. The film industry started to embrace Asian characters to normalize and make people get used to Asian people. However, representing Asian culture is not that easy. There is no specific line divide between representation and stereotypes. Asian expressions in the former period tend to be more stereotyped instead of represented. For example, characters are always related to fantastical dragons, the protagonist always knows about Kung fu, and chopsticks as a tool to do anything. Those are not trustworthy representatives for Asian culture. It doesn’t indicate the filmช industry did not develop on how Asian characters should be, but they have further research for the most accurate information about Asians to receive the best representation.
Grade A+ on Asian representation?
Turning Red is not far from the best Asian-led feature film. Domee Shi did a very great job of representing Asians. Not only a very detailed cultural representation that she did an accurate record of events, but also the representation of female adolescence. All of the Chinese stereotypes are successfully tackled down. Firstly, in the sense of Chinese culture, the representation seems to be very authentic. Many scenes capture “very Asian” activities and preferences. For example, Chinese families have to burn a joss stick in front of their ancestors’ worship. Every single Chinese family has to do this action hundreds of times. Eating rice porridge for breakfast is also a small detail of Chinese families. Even though Chinese Americans or Chinese Canadians were living in the United States, they still eat rice as a main course instead of bread. The central food of Asian American, such as dumplings and baos, are also included in the movie scene. It was the scene where Mei looked at her parents for approval on her bao wrapping. This shows that this movie tries to capture many small details that could happen to Chinese childhood memories.Another example of Chinese preference that shows the director’s intention in this movie is that every mother in the early 2000s loved Celine Dion. Celine Dion was a famous Canadian singer and all-time favorite artist back then. Moreover, the most important representation of a strict mother in an Asian family is so related in the audience’s mind. Most Asian children have to face overprotective and overbearing parents. I did not simplify that every single family has strict parents but most of them were. Some people might say that having protective and controlling parents is reasonable. However, the word “over” did not come with no point. To be over which means too much and it is not appropriate. Strict parents that keep their children in a specific set of schedules of everyday life do not always work. According to the movie, Ming Lee, Mei’s mother, is also strict just like most Asian parents are. For example, Mei was not allowed to go to Karaoke with her friends after school because she had to help her mother clean her family temple. Also, Ming did not let her daughter go to her favorite boy band concert even though Mei was so obsessed with them. Besides, Mei always did a great job on her school grade, but her mom routes for the further future career. She said that their ancestors would be proud if Mei could be UN Secretary-General in the future. This behavior could cause Mei to struggle with the pressure and her mother’s dream. As a result, Shi uses the metaphor of a red panda comparing the messiness of growing up to be a major conflict in the film. The red panda is the representation of pressure, burden, and uncontrollable emotions and thoughts in adolescence. However, this movie did not say that having those complex emotions is bad and everyone should hide it. The movie tries to show that nobody’s perfect. Everyone has their dark side and imperfection. Even Ming, who is a mother, also faces the same feelings as her mom too. They grew up with the phrase “I can’t disappoint my family, my mom. All the hopes and dreams are pinned on me.” That’s not the duty that little young children have to carry what their parents want them to be.
In addition, this feature film also included positive body representation. The director did not use “princess figure”, skinny, small waist,with a long thin neck and long slim legs, as in Disney’s history.
Further Asian Pop Culture?
Nowadays, Asian soft power has spread worldwide, especially K-pop music. There are a lot of boy bands and girl groups from Asia being famous across the continent, such as Blackpink and BTS. Even though languages are different, music brought people together. K-pop successfully creates powerful soft power among people around the world. They made people want to know more about Korean stuff and give attention to the country making Korea more prominent in World society. Shi also uses a reference from a Korean boy group named BTS mixed up with the famous American boy band back in 1995 named NSYNC to create a boy band in the film. 4-Town is the boy band that the director created to show a diverse group of a multi-ethnic heartthrob. I feel so related to Mei because I am actually a Kpop fan too. I understand how she wants to attend her favorite boy band’s concert so much. The song that is made to use in the film is about the late 90s and early 200s music style. On a music production, this film got the Grammy-winning sibling, Billie hellish, and her brother Finneas O’Connell, to produce music for fictional boy bay. They produced many great songs, such as Nobody Like U, U Know What’s Up, and 1 True Love. You cold try listening to it on any music platforms. Moreover, Disney and Pixar also created a website for this fictional boy band for the audience who became a fan of 4-Town. It elaborates more information about the members and songs with very interesting features.
Honouring your parents sounds great but if you take it too far, you may just forget to honour yourself.Meilin Lee
Turning Red is a perfect feature film not only for teenagers but also for parents and anybody. This movie taught me to love myself first so I would not lose myself instead of making people around me happy. If you haven’t watched Turning Red yet, don’t hesitate! It’s now available on Disney+. If you want to add some opinions or recommend any movies, please feel free to comment down below!
Vinyl record never die
- Thanasilp Sawaengphan
I really love this article, even I am not a big fan of Disney but this animated film is really fun to watch. It’s good to see Disney producing different style of animation as usually they make the fairy tale style story.
- Chanchanok T.
It’s interesting that Disney made animated films to make more different style.
- Natthanicha Pongarporn
I just watched it a few days ago.Thank you for sharing information! When I watched it , I felt like ‘this is really asian action and activities’.For instance , relationship between daughter and parents,they will be very strict and very worried about everything in daughter life and sometime it seem like they framed their daughter even she grown up but she won’t get freedom at all.I am the one who faced this problem too.It’s quite sad but mostly asian parents will be.Lastly,the movie is well conveyed.
- Panita Peerapongpipath
I am the one who loves watching Disney films but has never seen this animation before. This article gives interesting information about the film and makes me feel interested in knowing more about the details of the story, so I will instantly watch it after writing this comment! Moreover, it sounds great that Disney did not create the character based on a beauty standard like a princess figure because, nowadays, people are campaigning on this topic seriously. Lastly, this film is different from other Disney films since there was a representation of the real Asian culture that others do not present.
- Chavisa K.
I also grew up with Disney movies too!! and for me it is good to see a different style of Disney story, not just princess and prince but more relatable to real life. Moreover, it’s apparent that Disney keeps adding more variety of culture to their movie and animation and it makes me excited about which one is next.
I very enjoy this article! I’m also a big fan of Disney and Pixar. I watched “Turning Red” and I have to say that it quite great. In my opinion, I would say that nowadays, Disney and Pixar produce animations with variety of ethnicities, skin tones, more than before for example, in the past we saw Disney only producing fairy tale stories like Cinderella, Beaty and the Beast, Ariel etc compared with Pixar which is more varieties such as Toy story, Cars, Monster Inc etc. I like that you said about the Asian soft power spread world wide, especially K-pop. I totally agree with you because since I was a kid, I grow up with K-pop and the movie, Turning Red, put these characters on movie to show how successful it is and how it impacts our lives. I also like about that in the movie, Turing Red, present about the Asian Family and culture because Asian cultures are quite sensitive and complicated, they did it very well!