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Movie Review: “Turning Red” and Christian Emotional Repression

March 14, 2022

Pixar is no stranger to controversy, especially when it comes to Christian reviewers. Already as I’m scrolling, I’m seeing everywhere from Christians saying it’s a “can’t miss” to influencers saying they “turned it off 5 minutes in for its terrible messaging”

Disney and Pixar’s “Turning Red” follows the story of 13 year old Mei Lee, a confident yet dorky teen who is torn between pleasing her mother and being herself with her friends. As if that stress wasn’t enough, one day Lee wakes up and realizes that whenever she shows any strong emotion (good or bad) she transforms into a giant Red Panda.

“Turning Red” is a beautiful story of forgiveness, leaning about yourself, generational sin, and family bonds. From this point on, this review will feature some spoilers, so if you want to go into the movie spoiler-free, stop reading and return later.

The first big theme of the movie is family bonds. Mei Lee comes from a traditional Chinese family in Toronto, and is held to high standards, coming home from school to lovingly help her mom cook and clean, and maintaining perfect grades in school. However, she starts to show the sides she’s hiding, like drawing her favorite boy band members and a boy from school as “sexy mermen”. When her mom inevitably finds these drawings, she reacts angrily and over-the-top, bringing the drawings directly to Mei’s peers, horrifically embarrassing her daughter in the process.

When Mei stops holding back these emotions and starts letting them out, she magically turns into a giant Red Panda. After trying to hide this from her family and friends, she eventually learns that this is a family “curse” brought on by their ancestors, and they must learn to control it, or be stuck with the panda forever.

How often as Christians are we taught that these emotions are harmful and that we should repress them and just “pray them away”? Nowhere in the Bible does it say that feeling angry, sad, happy, confused, or any other emotion is inherently sinful. It’s what we do with those emotions that can cause sin, and damage to others.

In “Turning Red”, Mei Lee was able to show her emotions to her friends, but had to hide them from her parents. This led to the “Panda” getting worse, and her losing control.

Jesus himself felt deep sadness and anxiety when he was in the garden of Gethsemane:

Then he (Jesus) said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.”

Matthew 26:38

His soul feeling overwhelmed to the point of death?! Those are strong words to describe strong emotion felt by Jesus himself. He asked his community to stay with him as he felt those emotions. Jesus also famously felt anger when he flipped the tables at the temple.

Christians have had a bad habit of treating emotion as sin, and it’s important to separate the two. Some of the most passionate, emotive people have done the most when it comes to evangelism and passion for spreading Christ’s love.

To avoid totally spoiling the movie, the message of Turning Red is not to repress who you are. Embrace the good times and the bad times and use them to build you up as a better person.

As a Christian, I feel that I should mention the movie is very heavy in Eastern religious tradition. The family says clearly that they worship their ancestors, and there are moments in which there is heavy chanting, and ceremonies that many may think resemble non-Christian “scary” rituals. If that is something you struggle with seeing, I may skip this movie, because the rituals are featured enough in the plot that it may make some Christian viewers uncomfortable, especially with children who may be confused by the theme.

Overall, this definitely isn’t one of Pixar’s best overall, but it’s still a great movie, and worth seeing (It’s tough to say that because so many of Pixar’s movies are great, so when one that is very good like this comes along, it’s tough not to compare it with others)

If I had to rate the movie, I’d give it a solid 8/10.

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