Spiritual Reflection with Turning Red

Pixar’s newest release is a coming-of-age story about a Chinese Canadian girl accepting both her changing body and shifting relationships as she enters adolescence. It strikes a different chord than many Pixar movies by inviting viewers to explore universal coming-of-age themes as they play out in a very specific time, place, and culture.

Reflecting on Mei’s experiences will encourage children to discover ways in which they are similar to and different from her.  It may deepen their understanding of themselves and others and help them imagine incorporating new spiritual practices in their lives. Use one or more of these discussion prompts to engage children in spiritual reflection with the movie. 

  • Central to Turning Red is the story of Mei’s ancestor, who called upon the gods to turn her into a red panda so she could protect her children and village. Ask children: How does this story affect the way Mei’s family reacts when she becomes a red panda? What values does it encourage? Then invite them to share spiritual stories they know and talk about how those stories affect their day-to-day lives.
  • When Mei turns into a panda, she tries various things to help her return to her regular form. She brushes her hair, takes deep breaths, stops thinking about what’s upsetting her, and imagines being surrounded by loving people. Invite children to try out these calming practices. Ask: Which ones help you feel peaceful?  Which ones help you feel more comfortable in your own body? Encourage each other to practice the things you find helpful every day and report back your experiences in a week.
  • Mei and her family live in one of Toronto’s Chinatowns, where they help tend a local temple. In the movie, we see them cleaning, worshiping, and educating visitors about the temple’s history and practices. Research together one of Toronto’s temples (links in Related Resources) and learn more about what happens there. Ask: What aspects of temple life seem familiar to you?  What aspects are different? If you could visit, what events or practices would you most want to see in person (and why)?
  • Mei’s family practices veneration of their ancestors.  Often, Mei can be found at her mother’s side showing respect by lighting candles, leaving food, and bowing at the family altar. Encourage children to search online for more information about ancestor reverence. Talk about other ways that families honor the dead (e.g. funerals, memorial donations, planting trees or flowers). Ask: How do you remember family members who have died? How would you like others to remember you when you die?
  • One critique of Turning Red is that some of its characters reflect problematic stereotypes of Chinese people. Point out some of the stereotypes you saw in the movie. Note that every aspect of a movie is carefully scripted so the stereotypes are not accidental. Ask: Why do you think the filmmaker decided to use stereotypes? How can they be harmful to real people? As an example, note how Chinese communities have been targeted during the pandemic. Help children brainstorm ways to combat stereotypes in their community.



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