“Turning Red” premiered on Disney+ a few weeks ago, and the range of reactions it’s received hasn’t stopped. There are some who praise it for its raw relatability while there are others who think the depiction of puberty in tween girls is inappropriate.
Whatever the controversies are, I love the movie. The portrayal of a young, teenage girl coming into her own while simultaneously balancing the demands of friendship and family is wonderful.
Recent Disney hits, such as “Turning Red” and “Encanto,” point to a positive shift that the company seems to be making. A person isn’t saved by a true love’s kiss — instead, they are saved by mending familial connections and finding their unique worth.
Along with Disney’s ability to be culturally insensitive at times with movies like “Pocahontas,” the studio also doesn’t often paint the full picture of patching up a broken family.
In “Frozen,” Anna is hurt by her sister Elsa’s low-spirited disposition. Although the pair finds solace in one another in the end, Anna finding romantic love still plays an important role in her character finding joy again.
As I said, nothing is downright wrong with that portrayal. I love “Frozen.” But these new movies do so much more with the complete absence of romantic love.
“Encanto” is the epitome of representation for me personally. It features a Hispanic family. The main character is a quirky, teenage girl — and the characters are so messy. The film depicts a real family that is grappling with the stress of generational trauma, and that is so true to this generation’s reality.
In my own life, I’ve had to unlearn some of the unhealthy behaviors and expectations learned by my mom and grandma. It’s not their fault, but now that we know better, we can all do better.
The same goes for the main character of “Encanto,” Mirabel Madrigal. Unnecessary pressure and expectations are put on her from her abuela, but by the end of the movie, she is able to realize her worth. Abuela realizes her own faults, which leads to healing for all of the relatives, even the ones who were hiding their pain.
Unlike many critics of the movie, I will absolutely not stand for Abuela slander. Her early adulthood was filled with instability, so she tried her best with the knowledge she had to protect her family until Mirabel notices her pattern. Instead of being violently outraged, she forgives Abuela.
Similarly, Meilin Lee in “Turning Red” does become outraged at the red panda side of her, but she forgives her mom, and her culture, in the end too. Her mom’s ability to be overbearing stems from her childhood as an immigrant daughter of an even harsher mom. Mei holds her mom accountable, but she doesn’t hold it against her.
This forgiveness allows Mei to enjoy her life more. Her mom becomes cognizant of her daughter’s individual personhood and begins to respect her choices — it’s so beautiful to watch it all play out.
Both of these films portray all of this healing, sans romantic love in the main character’s life. Not every person can relate to wanting to find their one true love. Not everyone can relate to that love being defined by the confines of gender and heteronormativity either.
Disney recognizing this and producing narratives that highlight healing in regard to familial love rather than romantic love is truly a step in the right direction. Shining this light on non-white and less “traditionally” American families is so important for impressionable children watching the movie and for anyone who needs to heal.
Elizabeth Valadez (she/her) is a freshman studying English and political science. She is a member of Chi Alpha.