Disney and Pixar’s new animated movie Turning Red tells the story of a young Chinese Canadian girl named Mei Lee who turns into a red panda when she struggles with big emotions. She is at the cusp of adolescence, so you can imagine that big emotions are basically around every corner. Reviews for the movie, directed by Academy Award-winning director Domee Shi (and based in part on her own upbringing), have been great. The movie has already scored a 95% on Rotten Tomatoes, and people seem to love it, even if they are not, in fact, themselves young girls who turn into red pandas when they get upset. One CinemaBlend reviewer, however, simply found the movie “exhausting.” Why? It seems because he “is not this film’s target audience.”
Managing director of CinemaBlend Sean O’Connell posted a review of the film that has since been taken down. “Some Pixar films are made for a universal audience,” O’Connell wrote in a tweet that’s been deleted. “The target audience for this one feels very specific, and very narrow. If you are in it, this might work well for you. I am not in it. This was exhausting.”
In his review, he wrote, “I recognized the humor in the film, but connected with none of it. By rooting Turning Red very specifically in the Asian community of Toronto, the film legitimately feels like it was made for Domee Shi’s friends and immediate family members. Which is fine… but also, a tad limiting in its scope.”
While the review has since been taken down and O’Connell issued an apology, Turning Red cast members decided to respond to his original claim that the movie’s audience was too narrow.
“Of course not,” Rosalie Chiang, who plays Lee, told CBC News in an interview. “This is a coming of age film, everyone goes through this change … I think different people of different cultures are going to go through it differently, but at the end of the day, the core messiness and change is something everyone can relate to.”
Maitreyi Ramakrishnan, who plays Mei’s friend Priya, added to CBC News that she thought everyone could “relate to Meilin's story, regardless of whether you are a young Chinese girl from Canada or not.”
As for director Domee Shi, her response, shared by Eli Glasner on Twitter, was a mic drop moment. “Tweenhood and puberty is exhausting,” Shi said. “We want to be authentic to the experience. Was his puberty not exhausting? Lucky man.”
Many more people took to social media to note that people of color rarely had the chance to see themselves represented on film and still managed to relate.
One wondered, “how much ‘i just couldn’t empathize with #TurningRed’ could also mean ‘i don’t see the humanity of young asian girls.’”
Finally, one Twitter user pointed out that empathizing with other Disney and Pixar movies requires a certain level of suspension of disbelief like any animated movie. They wrote, “if you can empathize with toys, cars, fishes and bugs, you should be able to empathize with an asian girl unless of course you have a problem with asians. and girls.”
Turning Red premieres on Disney+ on March 11, and you can watch it even if you don’t happen to be an Chinese Canadian girl going through puberty who turns into a red panda.