Are red pandas considered important?
The red panda plays a major role in the mythology of Pixar’s Turning Red, but what role does the red panda play in real Chinese mythology?
Warning: SPOILERS for turn red before.
Pixar turn red revolves around a mythology that allows Meilin and her family to transform into red pandas – but do red pandas actually have a place in Chinese mythology? turn red depicts a Canadian family doing their best to keep their Chinese heritage alive in the heart of Toronto, managing a shrine dedicated to their ancestors and spiritual protectors, the red panda. In the film, it is explained that the red panda has its place in Chinese myth and legend.
turn red tells the story of Meilin “Mei” Lee, a 13-year-old girl who learns to go through hardships to become a woman. Mei has always been devoted to her family and to being the child they want her to be: she earns Aces, is involved in all after-school programs, and all her free time is spent running the family sanctuary. When her overbearing mother goes overboard and embarrasses her in front of a whole troubleshooter of classmates, including her crush, Mei’s frustration boils over with unintended consequences. Mei then learns that her family carries an ancient secret: as each woman in her family comes of age, she unlocks the ability to become a red panda whenever she feels an intense emotion.
While turn red has its own complex meaning, red pandas themselves do not play a major role in real Chinese mythology. In the film, Meilin’s ancestor Sun Yee was given the ability to transform into a red panda because she worshiped them, not because red pandas themselves harnessed a mythical ability. Red pandas are considered territorial and protective of their young – everything Sun Yee had to embody to protect her family, and her descendants after her. Native to Nepal, China and the eastern Himalayas, the red panda is respected by locals – its skin is frequently used in culturally significant Chinese ceremonies, including weddings – but there are ultimately very few references to red pandas in ancient and Chinese myths. popular tales.
This lack of permanent mythology is part of the reason why the creators of turn red chose to base their myth around the red panda. Director Domee Shi explained that they chose the red panda because they “wantise the space and the room to invent a whole legend and mythology.” (via Insider) Shi is a personal fan of the red panda and thought it was a perfect and adorable juxtaposition to a time in girls’ lives that seems anything but adorable.
Although there aren’t many lore surrounding red pandas in Chinese mythology, there are many stories regarding animal shapeshifters, mostly featuring spirits that take the form of animals like foxes and snakes, which possess the ability to assume human forms. Combining the concept of shape-shifting animals and the practice of ancestor veneration, turn red was able to create a whole new mythos that paid homage to his Chinese heritage. If there is a sequel, it will be interesting to see if the story builds on the red panda mythology or if a whole new legend is introduced.
Next: Everything We Know About Turning Red 2
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