Turning Red: 10 Character Details You Might Not Have Noticed

Pixar is known for its attention to detail and so it’s not too surprising that their latest release, Turning Red, includes plenty of very deliberate choices throughout the film that say a little something about the characters. These inclusions help to tell this unique narrative while fleshing out the personalities of its leads further.

It might be a mannerism, choice of clothing, or perhaps even something included within the setting itself, but Pixar loves sneaking in nods to the wider world of these characters so that audiences feel as if they are inhabiting a real place. Much like any Disney movie, once these details have been noticed the storytelling becomes even clearer!

Erratic Opening

The opening of Turning Red is pretty erratic. It takes the audience inside the mind of a teenager and the whimsicality of her life. It’s an immediate demonstration that the film isn’t quite like other Pixar releases and celebrates the unique visual style the animators have chosen.

However, it’s a very interesting choice as the movie quickly slows in its pace as soon as young Mei is faced with her family life. The person she wants to be is first presented to viewers, but everything suddenly comes to a grinding halt as soon as her reality hits her, alongside her studies and responsibilities. That use of pace with the character and stylized choice of animation is consistent throughout the piece.

A Unifying Green

Mei's mom looking at her drawings on Turning Red

It’s so important to establish a division between Mei and her family throughout the production as she tries to find her own voice and identity. It’s very evident that the color green has come to represent the group, with Mei’s mother, aunties, and even her house all sharing the same tones.

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That’s in contrast to the reds of the panda and indeed the clothing that the young protagonist wears throughout the piece. Those who are now donning those green hues have left their alter ego behind, while Mei continues to hold on to her newfound abilities and red hair.

Unique Colors Amongst The Group

The girls in the school hallway in Turning Red

Identity plays into Turning Red a lot and Mei’s friends have for the most part found their own styles. Each character is defined by a color, whether it’s red, purple, green, or yellow. But there are also some connective features that still allow them to feel like a unit.

Whether it’s similar shoes, a few shared colors, accessories like hats or glasses, these elements showcase that they clearly share ideas but are very much separate from one another as well. That’s great to parallel against some of the stylistic choices of Mei’s family later. Despite what her mother says, this group clearly doesn’t just copy one another.

Panda Motifs

The girls see Mei as a panda for the first time in Turning Red

It’s perhaps pretty obvious but there is no lack of panda motifs scattered throughout the production. In fact, whether it’s tiny statues or images of the animal, the use of the color red, or perhaps even claw marks secretly hidden in different locations, the presence of the beast is clear.

While this brilliant friendship group quickly comes to accept Mei’s transformation, the outside world might take some convincing. Regardless red pandas have quite a reputation for being calm and gentle creatures and the way they sit peacefully in the background of scenes represents that well, while the conflict simmers under the surface always in view.

Hulk Imagery

turning red ending explained

The giant red panda iconography is a pretty out-there idea and the team at Pixar clearly wanted to ground it in the familiar. The imagery used as the giant panda rages and panics across the city feels very reminiscent of other transformation films. This could almost be a werewolf flick, for instance.

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However, the movements certainly pay homage to the Incredible Hulk, which is also owned by Disney. The way Mei leaps across buildings and is so accidentally destructive plays into the psyche of what an audience is already used to seeing on screen.

Mystical Smoke

Turning Red transformation

It’s an interesting choice from Pixar, but the transformation process has actually been given a very definitive visual edge. Every time the panda is unleashed some pink smoke appears. The more aggressive the transformation the more smoke seems to burst out.

While it certainly announces the transition in a major way, it actually links back to the mysticism associated with the gift. This kind of god-like imagery is used again later during the process of removing the panda. Links like these bring the film full circle while also revealing little hints about the mystical nature of the abilities before the eventual deity-based revelation.

Tamagotchi And Responsibility

Mei Lee in Turning Red

The inclusion of a Tamagotchi obviously firmly sets this film in its respective time period. While the retro game is obviously a throwback it actually says a little something about the character as well, even if it is a fun place to store the panda spirit eventually.

The Tamagotchi is all about teaching responsibility to kids. Mei has taken that opportunity to demonstrate that she can make her own decisions and had been able to keep her electronic pet alive thanks to her responsible attitude. It’s a signal that she’s growing up and plays into the larger themes of the film, throwing the tropes of traditional animation to the side.

Singleness Of Jin Lee

Turning Red's Dad Solo Post-Credit Scene

Jin Lee, Mei’s father, is separated from the family for most of the film. The dynamic between Jin and his wife is clearly complicated, but it is her father that Mei eventually turns to for advice. He’s clearly more laid back and enjoys having fun, much like his daughter.

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But just like a barrier is being built between Mei and her mother, there is also one with Jin. In plenty of scenes, he is pictured by himself or deliberately separated by a wall or some other device. It’s an interesting use of blocking and one that looks to slowly heal as the family gets more open with one another.

A Scar Worn With Pride

Turning Red Mei grandmother aunts

It’s interesting that Mei’s Grandma Wu, wears her scar with such pride. While she initially hides the injury with her sunglasses, she quickly reveals it, as if it’s a reminder to her daughter about how dangerous the powers can be. That’s such an interesting move from the animators.

There’s a constant reminder to the audience that there is a consequence to becoming the panda. While it’s not outright said when first meeting Wu, it’s clear that there’s a connection between the scratches on the walls and the same shape across her forehead, adding to the tension.

Family Division With Ming Lee

The aunts arrive in their sunglasses and jogging suits in Turning Red

Ming Lee is very much separate from the rest of her family, much like Mei tries to be from her own parents. While they all wear the same green colors, which brings her alongside Mei’s other aunties, there are a few distinct differences as well.

They are given a uniformity with the same postures, handbags, sunglasses, and even personality types. It’s clear that Ming does not fit in at all, which might play back to her own childhood and complications with her panda. It sells the idea of why Ming may not want her own daughter to go through the same conflicts.

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