Born in 1986, this '80s baby and '90s kid remembers the colorful and naughty side of millennial youth.
Is It Meilin Or Fiona?
It's a coming-of-age story about a girl, who transforms into a dangerous and beastly creature while she's asleep.
She's embarrassed and scared, convinced that people will hate her if they see this "ugly" side of her. Her parents try to get her to conceal this version of her from the world, and unless a certain ritual is performed during an arbitrary point in time in which there is red in the sky, she may just stay this way forever.
Does this sound familiar to you?
It should, because this is the story of Princess Fiona in the 2001 CGI comedy, Shrek, distributed by DreamWorks Pictures.
It isn't too much of a surprise to find that the 2022 CGI comedy Turning Red from Pixar/Disney is inspired by this Y2K era film.
After all, the anti-fairytale of Shrek was an immediate hit with audiences, and set the tone for reimagining the archetype of the fairytale in children's media, and with Princess Fiona, carried a torch held by Disney's Mulan, Esmeralda and Princess Jasmine in the 1990s, in which the idea of the "princess" character was being re-shaped to that of a much more empowering, vocal model, who could get into the same level of physical violence as traditionally male characters.
It's also not the first time that a Disney owned company has paid homage to Shrek, as Princess Merida in Brave also shares visual similarities to Princess Fiona.
Given that Turning Red takes place in 2002 and Shrek debuted in 2001, it only seems fair to assume that at least one or two elements from the rival company's output would find their way into the world Meilin lives in.
But Shrek isn't the only piece of media this film is lifting from.
Meilin Wants To Fight Evil By Moonlight
Back in 2002 in Canada, both when and where Turning Red takes place, YTV Canada was still airing reruns of both the DiC and Cloverway edits of seasons 1-4 of Sailor Moon.
YTV even had a dedicated website that is still available on the Internet Wayback Machine, complete with games, a gallery and occasional contests, where TV viewers could enter for a chance to win dolls and cosplay accessories from Irwin Toys, shortly before they went out of business.
Turning Red pays homage to this, via "anime inspired" glances from Meilin and her friends, backgrounds painted to look like Sailor Moon's first season, a talisman for Ming in the same vein that the Outer Guardians each had talismans in Sailor Moon S and in Sailor Moon Crystal Season 3, and in promotional materials, where Meilin draws herself and her friends as each of the Sailor Guardians, complete with Usagi's Moon Stick/Crescent Moon Wand, but drawn in the style of the Sailor Moon manga and the 2014 Sailor Moon Crystal anime and not in the original 90s style.
Drawing inspiration from the anime's internet fandom, Meilin's boisterous, forceful personality even resembles some of the fandom's most notorious fans, drawing parallels to fans who grew up to mimic, even plagiarize content from the series, right to the point of mockery aimed at even "normal" Sailor Moon fans.
And speaking of that notebook...
Mrs. Meilin Charming?
A notebook opens, revealing the hidden, dreamy, romantic scribblings of the feminine protagonist in the family CGI movie.
Somewhere in the throes of blossoming puberty, she has drawn a cute, idealized and yet highly juvenile and cartoonish version of herself, and then adorned the next few pages with scribbles and drawings of her hopes and dreams of marrying her crush, elevating him to superstar status, despite not really knowing him at all.
Once again, this is Princess Fiona, whose girlhood notebook is discovered by her husband, in the 2004 film, Shrek 2.
Yet another idea lifted from DreamWorks, but not surprising considering Meilin's age. It is true that many girls that age go through a phase where they keep private notebooks and journals just for their romantic daydreams, but it's not hard to see just how very close the two films are when it comes to handling this time in a young girl's life.
Another idea lifted comes in the form of Fiona's father, King Harold.
King Harold hid the fact for most of his life that he was really The Frog Prince, and subsequently tried to hide Princess Fiona's true form from the world, hoping that if his daughter could perform a ritual in time (in this case, kissing having Prince Charming be her one true love and kiss her before midnight) that it would seal her ogre side, and keep her a normal human forever.
Similarly in Turning Red, Ming does not disclose Meilin's ability to become a red panda until after it happens, nor does she inform her daughter that this is a genetic trait among women in their family. She conceals her own red panda form and hopes that if her daughter can perform a ritual (in this case, one that involves a talisman) on the night of the Red Moon, that Meilin will seal her red panda form and stay a normal human forever.
Both Princess Fiona and Meilin however end up with true friends who show them that they're absolutely fine exactly the way they are, warts and all, and both end up rebuking the offer to become human forever.
Both Ming and King Harold initially reject their daughters' newfound confidence and comfort in their "monstrous" selves, but end up relenting, especially after transforming themselves.
The Original Panda Mei-Ling
In September of 1999, Viz Media, future distributor for all five seasons of Sailor Moon and three seasons of Sailor Moon Crystal, printed and distributed Run Ishida's Night Warriors: The Darkstalkers Revenge, a 1996 manga based on Capcom's long running Darkstalkers/Vampire Warrior/Night Warriors series.
The fighting game series already had an underground fanbase in Canada, (where Turning Red takes place) and just a few years before Meilin's story takes place, the series had already enjoyed a DiC Saturday morning cartoon series for kids, and an adults-only anime OVA mini-series by the time the manga hit Canadian shelves.
In the center of the graphic novel is the character Hsien-Ko, a Kyonshi/Jiang Shi/Hopping Vampire with a heart of gold and a desire to avenge her mother.
Hsien-Ko is usually followed by her older twin sister, Mei-Ling.
Both sisters have been transformed from being normal humans into monstrous creatures.
Mei-Ling is usually attached to her younger sister's hat in the form of a talisman.
When Mei-Ling is not attached to her sister, she turns into a panda.
Turning Red's Meilin, a girl cursed with turning into a red panda, is sometimes called "Mei" or "Mei Lin Lee" and in some territories, "Mei-Ling" and her mother carries a talisman.
Unlike the Shrek films, which hold more subtle likenesses to Turning Red, and Sailor Moon which the film directly pays homage to, when it comes to Darkstalkers' Mei-Ling, Meilin isn't just "in homage" to Mei-Ling, her story directly rips off of the decades old character with no credit given to Capcom at all.
Turning Red initially was marketed as an open, honest, silly and humorous take on girls going through puberty, written in a way that addresses the topic in a way that children can digest.
But creating an open dialogue on girlhood shouldn't require this much theft.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2022 Koriander Bullard