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Turning Red, Pixar’s latest animated coming-of-age film about a Chinese-Canadian middle school girl who unexpectedly inherits the ability to turn into a giant red panda, has gone viral in the short time since it dropped on Disney+ — but not for the reasons you might expect.
The film is set in the early 2000s, and centers around Mei, a 13-year-old Toronto teen with a loyal group of girlfriends who struggles with her new panda powers that activate when she feels any intense emotions. Turning Red is directed by Oscar-winner Domee Shi in her feature debut, who also directed the Pixar animated short Bao. The story been praised by critics not only for its depictions of puberty and teenage girlhood, but also for its representation of Chinese culture, and Pixar’s first full-length picture to have an Asian main character.
But just like growing up, it hasn’t always been the smoothest ride: the film sparked a fair amount of controversy leading up to, and after, its official release from everyone from film critics, to parents, and animation buffs on Twitter. Even the biggest fans of the movie were concerned about Disney’s decision to release the film exclusively on Disney+, making it the third Pixar film since 2020 to be denied a theatrical release.
Want to watch the film online? Here’s what you need to know about all the attention (and controversy) the movie’s received, and where to steam it.
Turning Red Reviews and Controversy
Even before the Turning Red‘s release, a tense debate erupted on Twitter after a tweet went viral mocking the film’s unique art style. Some chimed in to agree with the original tweet, claiming that Pixar’s animation and character design quality had somehow diminished over the years, with others firing back that this production was trying something new and inspired (users pointed out how rough Pixar’s early CGI initially looked, such as in films like the first Toy Story).
Meanwhile, since its release on Disney+, Turning Red currently holds 95 percent “Fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes, yet the audience score is 72 percent as of the publish date. The film (which has a PG rating), received several criticisms and comments from parents who were concerned about the “progressive ideas” presented in the film. This was in response to the film’s normalized take on aspects of puberty like periods (including a scene where Mei’s mother shows up to her school with a box of pads), budding sexuality, and changing bodies.
But the most public debate came out of a hotly-contested CinemaBlend review of the film by critic and managing director Sean O’Connell, which has since been deleted. It received significant backlash from readers and press across the web, calling it “racist” and “sexist” commentary.
“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 [director] Domee Shi’s friends and immediate family members,” O’Connell wrote in the now-deleted review. “Which is fine — but also, a tad limiting in its scope.”
What didn’t help was a follow-up tweet (now deleted) from O’Connell, which attempted to clarify his position, but only seemed as if he was doubling down. “Some Pixar films are made for universal audiences,” O’Connell wrote. “‘Turning Red’ is not. The target audience for this one feels very specific and very narrow. If you are in it, this might work very well for you. I am not in it. This was exhausting.”
CinemaBlend’s Editor-In-Chief issued a statement shortly after stating they “failed to properly edit this review,” with O’Connell releasing his own apology on Twitter. Since then, several cast members have spoken up in response, including Rosalie Chiang, who voices Mei in the film.
How to Watch Turning Red Online
To watch Turning Red online right now, you’ll need a Disney+ subscription. Pricing for Disney+ starts at just $7.99 a month and will include instant access to watch Turning Red online, as well as all of Disney+ slate of original shows, movies and exclusive offerings.
Want a better offer? Right now, you can get the Disney Bundle Deal, which gets you Disney+, Hulu and ESPN+ for just $13.99 a month. Use it to stream Turning Red online and get access to the entire Hulu and ESPN+ library of shows as well.
Both Disney+ offers let you watch Turning Red on your computer, tablet, or phone. You can also watch Turning Red on TV by casting it onto your screen through the Disney+ app on Roku, Fire TV Stick 4K, Apple TV and other similar streaming devices.
How to Watch Turning Red Online Free
While Disney+ doesn’t offer a free trial on its own, there are a couple ways to watch Turning Red online free.
If you are a Verizon subscriber, you may be eligible for their “Disney+ On Us” deal, which gets you six months of Disney+ for free. Sign-up for the offer or register for the free streaming deal with your Verizon plan here. You can then use it to stream Turning Red on Disney+ for free.
Turning Red Rating, Runtime, Cast, and Description
The runtime for Turning Red is 1 hour and 40 minutes, and the film has a PG rating. The film features the voices of many prominent Asian actors, as well as a few newcomers including Rosalie Chiang as Meilin “Mei” Lee. The cast also includes Sandra Oh, Ava Morse, Hyein Park, Maitreyi Ramakrishnan, Orion Lee, Wai Ching Ho, Tristan Allerick Chen, and James Hong.
In Turning Red, Meilin “Mei” Lee is a confident, adorkable 13-year-old who struggles between being a dutiful daughter, maintaining her relationship with her mother, and coming into her own as a teenager. One morning, she wakes up transformed into a giant red panda, and learns of a family blessing (or curse) that causes her to become the panda whenever she gets too excited. As she waits for a ceremony that can break the curse, Mei and her loyal friend group set their sights on using the panda to prepare for an upcoming concert of her favorite boy group, 4*TOWN.
You can currently watch Turning Red online, streaming on Disney+.