Blushing Photo: Disney/Pixar
Puberty can get a little, uh, hairy. In Blushing, he turns 13-year-old Meiling (voiced by Rosalie Chang) into a giant red panda, which effectively doubles as a not-so-subtle metaphor for puberty in this Pixar allegory. The animated tale serves as a convenient narrative fodder, apparently designed to help parents of very young children to abstractly explain the physical and emotional changes they undergo during this rite of passage.
Rosalie Chang, Sandra Oh, Orion Lee, Wai Ching Ho, Ava Morse, Maitreyi Ramakrishnan, Hayne Park, Tristan Alleric Chen, Tyler, Eddie Chandler, Jordan Fisher, Grayson Villanueva, Josh Levy, Topher Ngo, Finneas O’Connell, James Hong , Laurie Tan Chinn, Lillian Lim, Mia Tagano, Sherry Cola, Sasha Roiz, Lily Sanfelippo
Select theaters and Disney+ on March 11th.
Around 2002, Meiling is a Canadian girl of Chinese descent: bespectacled, self-confident, successful, and playing musical instruments. She grew up in a traditional (i.e., non-assimilated) Chinese house inside a temple with winged roofs, flowering cherry trees adorning the courtyard, and a pond teeming with lotus flowers and carp—a small sanctuary tucked away in Toronto’s Chinatown.
While her typical overbearing tiger mom Ming (voiced by Sandra Oh) worries about minor disruptions to Meiling’s schedule, her father Jean (voiced by Orion Lee) cooks and keeps the family in balance. At school, Meiling has a troop of best friends who share her enthusiasm for the 4*Town boy band.
When Meiling wakes up one morning to find herself transformed into a giant red panda, Ming bursts in with a large corrugated cardboard box containing ibuprofen, vitamins, a heating pad, and a wide selection of sanitary pads, suggesting that Meiling’s tantrum is caused by her menstrual cycle.
Meiling briefly finds that she can return to her normal self through deep breathing and inner zen, but eventually learns that the transformation is a symptom of a hereditary disease among the women in her family that requires a ritual to exorcise.
Unfortunately, her family schedules a ritual for the night of 4*Town’s performance at Canada’s legendary SkyDome (now known as the Rogers Centre), leaving Meylin in a dilemma.
Unlike Up, which offers only limited information about its pint-sized Asian-American protagonist Russell, this latest Pixar feature is unabashedly Asian. During the opening scene, Meiling runs past a bakery, a roast duck restaurant, and a food vendor in Chinatown.
She and Ming are watching a Hong Kong soap opera on TV. Blushing is not just a showcase of Orientalism, as in the Netflix series Over the Moon; it is a real life experience of the Chinese diaspora. The film not only passed the Bechdel test, but also scored highly on the Harold and Kumar test. (Asians and Tests! A marriage made in heaven!)
Meanwhile, the SkyDome is just about the only Kanuk detail in the film. Looney. French class. TTK Metropass. Lester B. Pearson High School uniform. Carlton the Bear, the Maple Leafs mascot, sits on the math teacher’s bookshelf. Canadians have never been seen like this in Hollywood movies; it almost looks like fan service. Director and co-writer Domi Shi, who also directed Pixar’s Oscar-winning short film Bao, is unmistakably Canadian and she’ll let you know.
Meylin’s best friends include Priya (voiced by Maitreyi Ramakrishnan), an Indo-Canadian, and Abby (voiced by Hein Pak), a Korean Canadian. In the film, they are not presented as monolithic, ethnically or personality-wise. Their school resource officer wears a turban, a nod to Punjabi Sikhs living in Canada. Several women in the background are wearing headscarves. While the film doesn’t feature a beloved South Asian character like Ali Abdul Anupama Tripathi in The Squid Game, it’s far from the total erasure perpetrated by Crazy Rich Asians.
At a time when Asian women in North America have endured so much hate and trauma, Turning Red is a small respite that celebrates them and their culture, resilience, intelligence, perfectionism, insecurity, anxiety, quirkiness, sass, ingenuity, sisterhood, love. to food, etc. We all need a little comfort from time to time to stay true to ourselves, and Turning Red speaks directly to generations of Asian women in the diaspora when they need to hear it most.