Warning: I’m about to ask you to do something very uncomfortable. Think back to when you were a tween — yes, really — and live in your feelings for a minute as a 10–12-year-old. Do you remember feeling emotional — about everything? Do you remember feeling overwhelmed about the many changes your body were going through and the confusing disconnect between not feeling like a kid anymore but still not feeling quite like an adult either? This can be such a complicated time, but Pixar is hoping to help. Their newest film, Turning Red, is premiering on Disney+ on March 11 — and you’ll definitely want to stream it with your tween!
Turning Red unapologetically broaches those awkward coming-of-age topics in a way that’s fun and entertaining, but informative at the same time. It’s about a girl named Mei, a quirky middle-schooler who just so happens to turn into a giant red panda whenever she experiences an extreme emotion. As someone who used to frequently blush all the time, this is just so relatable to me.
In an interview with Polygon Monday, director and co-writer Domee Shi said they wanted a movie to talk about puberty, including periods. “The red panda is a metaphor not just for puberty, but also what we inherit from our moms, and how we deal with the things that we inherit from them,” said Shi.
As a Chinese Canadian, Shi says Mei is “growing up caught between two worlds, East and West, but [she’s] also at this time in her life where she’s blossoming into adulthood. And all of these changes are happening not just to her body, but to her relationship with her mom and her friends.”
Producer Lindsey Collins added, “It was always in the very earliest versions of the film. It was the first thing we put into production. Everybody on the crew was unapologetic in support of having these real conversations about periods and about these moments in girls’ lives.”
Collins explained they were worried about how the Pixar higher-ups would respond to the raw look at puberty. “I think they saw it very much in the DNA of the film and the characters,” Collins said in the interview. “The hope is with putting it on the screen and having it be something that is cringy, but also funny, and a part of this story, it does normalize it. There’s an appreciation from anybody who’s gone through it for what we put on the screen, but also those who haven’t gone through it.”
Turning Red also addresses other topics middle schoolers would be familiar with, including being obsessed with boy bands. Since the movie is set in the early 2000s (something else to help parents reconnect with their past tween selves!), Mei loves 4*Town, the movie’s equivalent to NSYNC or The Backstreet Boys.
“I wanted to depict boy bands, pay homage to them, and make them a big part of the story of Mei’s life, because for a lot of teen girls and boys, [a boy band was] their first musical obsession,” Shi said. “It was just a cornerstone in their life, in growing up, developing these feelings, and trying to understand where all these emotions are coming from.”
If you feel uncomfortable talking to your tweens about puberty, Turning Red can provide a great jumping off point to continue the conversation. Keep in mind, you can start watching this with your kids (yes, even boys need to know about menstruation and puberty!) before they are tween age. The Mayo Clinic recommends talking to your kids about periods and puberty “early and often” throughout the years.
And if the movie or conversation makes your child (or you!) turn red, that’s OK! It’s just one more way to normalize talking about this, no matter what feelings it brings up. I’m excited for Turning Red to come out to make hormonal and physical changes in the tween years normal, a resource I wish I had when I was younger.
Shop these cool face masks for teens.