Analyzing Sean O’Connell’s Infamous ‘Turning Red’ Review

When I was a little girl I was wildly into furry plushies. I often imagined myself to be a wild horse or feral dog. So in many ways, the premise of “Turning Red’ spoke to me. I do adore red pandas, turning into one might be fun. Turning into a large one might be a culture shock for a petite person like myself. The film may present a culture shock to some of its audience.

When I was posting the “Turning Red” posters on Twitter, I got a weird response and I investigated.

I wondered if things would get weird once this film was out. I didn’t have to wait that long. The review embargo lifted on Monday. On Tuesday (8 March 2022), CinemaBlend posted its review  and it was pulled before Wednesday due to perceived racism and sexism. CinemaBlend also posted an apology.

The Chinese Canadian director did post a response according to Indiewire:

I did not read the original review but it was available in the Wayback Machine. I have also posted the full review on my blog.

The Pulled Review

Sean O’Connell, managing editor of Cinemablend, began his review by stating that:

The finest Pixar Animation features, in this critics’ opinion, play to a universal audience. We all imagined our adolescent toys coming to life during playtime, and feared the shadows that lingered in our closets or under our beds. By exploring those themes in Toy Story and Monsters, Inc., Pixar’s animators and storytellers constructed comedic yet emotional adventures that virtually everyone could watch and absorb relatable life lessons (some, depending on your upbringing, being more relatable than others). 

He found that because “Pixar has turned its reigns [sic] over to fresh voices and given them the freedom to share deeply personal – though less universal – stories.” Here he groups “Onward” and “Luca” with “Turning Red.” He warns that while “Turning Red” comes from the heart, these three films “also risk alienating audience members who can’t find a way into the story, beyond admiring the impressive animation that is the Pixar trademark.”

I am also a fan of Pixar’s “Toy Story” and “Monsters, Inc.” I enjoyed “Onward” and “Luca” to a certain extent although I had reservations on both. “Onward” and “Luca” both draw upon European lore. “Onward” As I recall, it was my experience with actual sheep and herding that made me most critical of “Luca.” “Onward” asked me to relate to two brothers even though I am not and have never been a boy or man and never owned a van.

O’Connell compares “Turning Red” to Michael J. Fox’s “Teen Wolf,” an “under appreciated comedy” as well as “the far superior” “The Mitchells vs. The Machines.”

Further he notes that “by design, ‘Turning Red’ needs to ramp up its nervous system and plug directly into the mindset of a young woman.”

The main problem, however, is:

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.

O’Connell reiterates his point in his concluding paragraph:

There’s an audience out there for Turning Red. And when that audience finds the movie, I’ve no doubt they will celebrate it for the unique animal that it is. In my opinion, however, that audience is relatively small, and I’m not part of it.

 How Universal Were Toy Story and Monsters, Inc

The Toy Story series highlights cultural differences. I would expect a different type of toys in Japan or in Asia. The lead characters, astronaut Buzz Lightyear and pull-string cowboy Woody are more US archetypes. Astronauts are a relatively new occupation outside of the US and Russia. Cowboys, particularly dress like Woody, are a Wild West character. He’s not dressed like a vaquero or gaucho.

In East Asia, you might expect more robots, a transformer-ish action figure, a dragon and a kaiju.

“Monsters, Inc.” is set in a dual world of monsters and humans. The humans have beds. I’ve lived in apartments that didn’t have beds.

But Pixar’s franchises also include “Finding Nemo” and “The Incredibles” as well as “Cars.” While cars are a common type of transportation, living in the sea is not. “Finding Nemo” and “The Incredibles” is about family or friends and the growth of their bonds. This is a universal theme in all of Pixar films.

Toy Story was about a toys led by a White astronaut and a White cowboy. Monsters, Inc. is also about two very White characters as if they were regular Joes, but instead they are monsters. Is that significant in why the critic prefers them? The Incredibles has a husband and wife team with a Black buddy and O’Connell didn’t mention that animated feature.

Horniest Movie in Pixar History?

O’Connell also wrote that “Without question, ‘Turning Red’ is the horniest movie in Pixar history, which parents no doubt will find surprising.” This animated feature is about 13-year-old girls. They are definitely attracted to boys but I thought it was more like puppy love or infatuation as opposed to “desiring sexual gratification” or “excited sexually” as Merriam-Webster defines “horny.”

To me, there’s a difference between junior high crushes and high school crushes, so I find it particularly troubling that two films that O’Connell compares “Turning Red” to are films about high school students: “The Mitchells vs. The Machines” and “Teen Wolf.”

O’Connell writes, that the Netflix flick was “another film that focused on a female character experiencing a major life change (but one that also remembered that a broader audience will be checking the film out, so it bothered to include plot elements everyone could find engaging.” Can one really relate to sentient robots taking over the world because an app felt jilted by its creator? In any case, the female character in question, Katie Mitchell (voiced by Abbi Jacobson), has just graduated from high school and the family is taking a road trip to take her to her college. Katie is a geek who hopes to become a filmmaker and she is White.

Of “Teen Wolf,” O’Connell writes: “Also, when seen from a bird’s eye view, ‘Turning Red’ plays like Pixar’s version of ‘Teen Wolf,’ only with a female protagonist turning into a red panda instead of a wolf. Complete sequences are lifted directly from Michael J. Fox’s underappreciated comedy and translated into animation here.”

In the 1985  “Teen Wolf,” Fox plays high school student who is a werewolf, a genetic problem passed down from his father (James Hampton). While in “The Mitchells vs. The Machines” Katie had no love interest, Fox’s Scott Howard is in lust with Pamela (Lorie Griffin), but pals with Boof (Susan Ursitti). He ends up having sex with Pamela but realizing that Boof is his true friend. The film is available to stream on Amazon Prime Video.

The attraction the girls in “Turning Red” have toward an older boy and the boy band has no possibility of turning into a carnal embrace.  It seems as innocent though much less mature than Woody’s attraction to Bo Peep in the Toy Story series. “The Incredibles” features two married couples. Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson)  is suspected of having an affair by his wife, Elastigirl (Holly Hunter). Mirage (Elizabeth Peña) is the seductive suspect.

White Issue? Binary Black and White Approach Issue?

As a woman, Meilin represents half of the world population. Meilin Lee as someone of Chinese descent, represents about 20 percent of the world population. How representative is she of the population of Canada and Toronto?

As an ethnic group in North America, she represents a people that were the target of exclusion legislation in both Canada (Chinese Immigration Act of 1885 and Chinese Immigration Act, 1923) and the United States (Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882). The legislation passed after the Chinese immigrants had helped build the railroad in both countries. Japanese Canadians, like Japanese Americans, were interned during World War II. People in Canada and the United States of East Asian descent have similar experiences.

Most certainly without such acts, the population of people of East Asian descent would be greater today in both countries. Yet, Canada isn’t the United States and Toronto isn’t Charlotte, North Carolina where Sean O’Connell’s Facebook page indicates he lives. According to his Facebook page, he’s from Massapequa Park, New York which is 93.9 White alone, and 0.3 percent Black, but 2.3 percent Asian, alone. 
The demographics of Charlotte according to the US Census Bureau is 48.8 percent for White alone, 35.2 percent for Black or African American alone, 14.3 percent Hispanic or Latino. People of Asian descent alone are only 6.5 percent. That is higher than the national average for people of Asian descent which is 5.9 percent (Black or African American alone is 13.4 percent while Hispanic/Latino is 18.5 percent, nationally).
Nationally, the Black population only accounts for 3.5 percent of Canada’s total population. From the 2016 Census (2021 Census finding will be out in October 2022), people of Chinese descent make up 4.6 percent of the total population, Filipino are 2.3, Korean is 0.5 percent and Japanese is 0.3 percent. Southeast Asian is 0.9 percent. South Asian is 5.6 and West Asian is 0.8 percent. In the case of Canada, Asian Canadians are a greater percentage of the population than Black Canadians.
In 2016, 52 percent of Toronto was female. According to CanadaPopulation.org, in 2011 the National Household Survey identified 50.2 percent of the population as White, 12.7 percent as East Asian, 12.3 percent as South Asian and 8.5 percent Black.
I doubt that O’Connell would complain about such specificity in the portrayal of Black people, particularly living in an area where Black and African Americans are the largest minority. I wonder if Black or people of African descent are more easily considered part of Canada or the United States, more so than other visible minorities such as people of East Asian descent. Cinemablend’s reaction to the social media storm indicates that the ability to relate to people, including women of East Asian descent is important,  but without a person of East Asian descent on staff, I wonder if the projects of people of East Asian descent and those about Asian and Pacific Islander communities will be fairly reviewed.  Representation is important. The staff of CinemaBlend doesn’t appear to include a writer who would be under the same anti-Asian hate that has risen since the COVID-19 pandemic began.
When I was growing up, I remember having two blonde dolls, but loving my plushies better. I also remember reading books and preferring animals as the main character. I sometimes imagined myself to be a wolf or a wild horse. Recently, I’ve been wondering if things would have been different if there had been representation in the heroes I saw and read about, particularly since I did have an interest in someone like Annie Oakley. If I had seen East Asian women as heroes instead of part of the scenery, would I have loved dolls more and animals less. Would I have imagined myself as an astronaut or cowboy if there had been representation instead of imagining myself a furry animal and relating to them.
However, even now and in the last decade, I’ve felt that despite demographics, the concerns of people of East Asian descent have been ignored even when the numbers indicate they are a significant population of specific cities and even greater in number than other minorities that do receive attention and might end up over represented.
O’Connell isn’t totally to blame. The binary system of considering racism and diversity in terms of Black and White doesn’t require one understand and include other minorities. Look at the recent nomination of Ketanji Brown Jackson. Hearing that she should be nominated because there’s never been a Black woman on SCOTUS seems tone deaf when there have never been a justice of either sex for other minority groups (e.g. Asian American, Native American or Muslim American). Look at the Oscars and their choice of hosts for the 2022 ceremonies even after the fiasco of 2016. Look at other ways that minorities have been excluded in favor of a Black and White binary approach to diversity.
Having limited knowledge of Canada, this incident did make me change my point of view of what a Canadian might look like, but it also again emphasized that the forever foreigner feeling is real in Canada and the United States.

 

4 comments

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.