Jennifer Wunsch

The Controversies That Turned ‘Turning Red’ Into a Cinema Flop

Remember when Pixar’s Turning Red hit the theaters and everyone was buzzing with anticipation?

Fast forward a few weeks, and what was supposed to be a blockbuster is being labeled a ‘flop’ after a disappointing box office performance.

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You’re probably wondering, how did a film from the creators of Toy Story and Up, with a 95% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, fail to resonate with the audience?

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Well, let’s untangle this web. Between the unconventional storyline, the release timing amidst a pandemic, fierce competition, and swirling controversies, there’s plenty to unpack.

So, let’s dive in, shall we?

Key Takeaways

  • Unconventional storyline and polarizing reviews: The film’s unique storyline, featuring a teenage girl transforming into a giant panda, divided viewers and led to polarizing reviews. Some praised the boldness of the concept, while others criticized it for cultural insensitivity.
  • Marketing tactics, timing, and box office performance: Poor timing and marketing strategies, including delays and controversies surrounding the film’s focus on Chinese culture, may have contributed to Turning Red’s underwhelming box office performance. Despite being a Pixar film, it struggled to stand out among the competition.
  • Audience reception and reviews: Despite a high rating on Rotten Tomatoes, Turning Red faced mixed audience reception and reviews. Many found Disney’s decision to tackle teenage realism in a Pixar film inappropriate, and the simultaneous theatrical and streaming release stirred controversy. Some viewers deemed the film’s themes and content unsuitable for a Pixar production.
  • Cultural representation controversies: Turning Red faced controversies regarding its cultural representation. Criticisms were directed towards Sandra Oh’s portrayal of Mei’s mother, the cultural insensitivity of the giant red panda transformation, the authenticity of Rosalie Chiang’s portrayal of Mei, and cultural inaccuracies in certain scenes.

The Unconventional Storyline

The Unconventional Storyline

Often, Turning Red’s unconventional storyline, particularly its portrayal of Chinese culture and puberty, has sparked heated debates, with viewers split between applauding its boldness and criticizing its perceived cultural insensitivity and inappropriateness.

You’ve seen the teenage girl who transforms into a giant panda, the brainchild of Domee Shi, but Turning Reds’ unconventional storyline hasn’t sat well with everyone, leading to polarizing reviews.

Marketing Tactics and Timing

Marketing Tactics And Timing

It’s crucial to consider the role timing and marketing tactics played in the less-than-stellar performance of ‘Turning Red’.

Despite being Pixar’s delightful new film, ‘Red’ faced stiff competition from 38 other releases at the box office.

The film’s marketing, heavily tied to Chinese culture, was marred by delays and controversies.

Poor timing and marketing strategies may have greatly affected its box office returns.

Audience Reception and Reviews

World Premiere Of Disney And Pixar's Turning Red In Hollywood
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – MARCH 01: The marquee is seen at the world premiere of Disney and Pixar’s Turning Red at El Capitan Theatre in Hollywood, California on March 01, 2022 to celebrate the launch on Disney+ on March 11th. (Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images for Disney)

Despite boasting a 95% certified fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, ‘Turning Red’ faced a turbulent tide of mixed audience reception and reviews.

This was largely due to Disney’s decision to tackle teenage realism through Mei and her friends, which many found inappropriate for a Pixar film.

Furthermore, the simultaneous theatrical and streaming release stirred controversy, further contributing to its perceived flop status.

Cultural Representation Controversies

Cultural Representation Controversies

While the audience reception and reviews were mixed, ‘Turning Red’ also found itself in hot water due to controversies surrounding its cultural representation.

  • The film’s portrayal of Mei’s mother (Sandra Oh) drew criticism.
  • The giant red panda transformation was seen as culturally insensitive by some.
  • Rosalie Chiang’s portrayal of Mei was questioned for authenticity.
  • The ‘Years Ago’ scene was scrutinized for cultural inaccuracies.

Comparison With Previous Pixar Hits

Comparison With Previous Pixar Hits

In contrast to the roaring success of previous Pixar hits, Turning Red’s performance at the box office was a letdown, with earnings falling significantly short of its predecessors.

Unlike the wide appeal of Finding Nemo, it seemed to target only teenage girls obsessed with a boy band and kids disobeying their parents.

Its mother-panda spirit subplot played a large part in the film’s failure to resonate.


Ironically, Turning Red’s stunning 95% Rotten Tomatoes rating couldn’t turn its red ink to black.

Despite its artistic triumph, factors like an unconventional storyline, poorly timed marketing, mixed audience reception, and contentious cultural representations, left it bleeding in the box office battleground.

Compared to previous Pixar hits, it’s a cautionary tale that even the mightiest studios can’t solely rely on critical acclaim. Sometimes, the magic just doesn’t translate into dollar signs.

It’s a paradox, isn’t it?

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