- “I'm Meilin Lee. And ever since I turned 13, I've been doin' my own thing, makin' my own moves; 24/7/365. I wear what I want, say what I want, and I will not hesitate to do a spontaneous cartwheel if I feel so moved!”
- ―Mei Lee's introduction in the opening scene
Meilin "Mei" Lee is the protagonist of Disney•Pixar's 2022 animated feature film, Turning Red. She has the ability to transform into a giant red panda whenever she feels a strong emotion.
Born in 1989, Mei is a confident, dorky, 13-year-old torn between staying her mother's dutiful daughter and the chaos of adolescence. Whenever her emotions get the better of her (whether it be getting too excited or too scared), she turns into a giant red panda and has to calm herself to change back.
Mei is a confident, 13-year-old teenage girl. She highly enjoys school and learning, especially things like math (which the rest of her peers don't like). She cares deeply about the environment, as she and her friends are shown with campaign signs to protest current issues, such as the whale populations, and the human littering that needs to stop.
Before Mei's power activates, she was carefree, reckless, and she did not care what people thought of her. She liked saying and doing what she wanted all day, all the time. She was also really extroverted, dramatically entering school and proudly hanging out with her friends. Mei was also very close with her mother, Ming, as they hang out together a lot and get along well. She also has a secret crush on Devon, the local convenience store worker, making drawings of him as a buff merman, a centaur, and many other things; Mei is embarrassed when Ming discovers them.
After Mei's power activates, she is way more cautious of how she acts, afraid that she will unleash her red panda form at the wrong time. She is very ashamed of and angry towards her new ability for causing huge disruptions in her life. The fear of inadvertently transforming, as well as Ming's helicopter parenting, makes Mei very anxious and frustrated. This in turn leads to her relationship with her mother becoming strained. However, Mei's friends help her come to terms with her power and accept it as part of her, giving her a more positive outlook on it and allowing some of her old self to come back.
Mei has a close bond with her parents, though her relationship with her mother is much more complex as Mei has striven to be her mother's "perfect little Mei-Mei", in her schoolwork, chores, and mostly keeping her interests secret from her mother, knowing she wouldn't approve of them. As a result, Mei is very anxious around her mother, especially when she is hiding her interests from Ming (such as her crush on an older boy and her being a fan of the boy band 4★Town), and she's dismayed by how her mother doesn't approve of Mei's friends, especially Miriam. This leaves Mei unable to stand up to or speak up against her mother, due to fearing her disapproval and disappointment.
After Mei's powers emerge and she comes under stress in trying to keep them under control, her friends help her find the peace and calm she needs to do so, and she realizes that by thinking of and focusing on her friends she can keep her powers under control. This is because, unlike with Mei's mother, she can be herself around her friends and not have to hide who she is without fear of disapproval or judgment, as her friends love and accept Mei as she truly is as a person, as opposed to Mei having to be her mother's "perfect daughter" and living in constant fear of her disappointment, meaning that Ming is the source of Mei's anxieties and issues.
When Mei undergoes the ritual to seal her panda spirit, she realizes the panda helped her to be her true self, not because of the transformation, but because it gave her the courage and confidence to be who she is and not the "perfect daughter" she was raised and expected to be and refuses to give it up, defying her mother and family's expectations. When confronted by her mother (who'd flown into a rage and unlocked her panda spirit after it shatters on the floor), Mei finally stood up to Ming, confessing her lies, but declaring she wasn't the "cute little Mei-Mei" Ming wanted her to be anymore and that she (Ming) had to deal with it.
Seeing Mei's mother in the celestial plane, and realizing that Ming suffered emotional scars from issues and tensions with her mother that she never resolved, Mei finally understood that Ming had suffered far worse than she had, and helped her mother find closure and make amends with her mother. Though Ming and their relatives chose to seal their panda spirits again, Mei stood by her decision to keep hers because it had helped her begin to find who she truly is as her person, and though she fears that might cause a divide between Mei and Ming, they find mutual assurance that as long as they love and remain true to each other they will keep their bond as daughter and mother strong and healthy.
Indeed, their bond steadily improves as Ming has found peace within herself, with Mei's mother, and even with her friends, including Tyler, as she's glad to see Ming warm up to her friends by inviting them to dinner in their home. Mei is glad that Ming is trusting her more and letting her live her life and be her person, and though they miss the way things were, they are happier and closer than ever.
As a human, Mei has fair skin, pink blush light brown eyes, and neck-length red hair (formerly black). She wears silver glasses, a teal barrette on the right side of her hair and two magenta barrettes on the left, yellow star earrings (that are stickers), and a black choker. Her outfit consists of a cardigan with a light and dark red lacy-like design at the top, and pink buttons (without the cardigan she wears a light pink polo shirt with two buttons on it). She wears an indigo or denim-colored box pleated skirt with mauve ankle-length leggings, pink socks, and gray and pink sneakers. Some parts of her red panda form reveal in her human form at times. She has a rainbow friendship bracelet with a green and pink-red bracelet underneath on the right wrist and a pink watch with multiple buttons on the left.
When Mei was a little girl, she had her black hair in buns, with a red hair clip in her hair, she still had her glasses on as a child. She wore a red short Chinese dress with flowers all over it, black and she wears red Mary Janes shoes.
When hiding the change in Mei's hair color, she is seen wearing a red tuque with light red stripes with maple leaves in between them.
Mei's pajamas consist of a white t-shirt that has a red maple leaf in the middle with red lines on the collar and end of the sleeves and pink gym shorts. All of her head accessories are off, including her glasses.
Mei's gym clothes consist of a white t-shirt that has dark green lines on the collar and sleeves and a "Lester B. Peason phys ed" logo on the top right of her shirt. She wears green and white shorts.
During the red panda ritual, Mei wears an outfit consisting of a plastic magenta flower with Mei's teal barrette underneath, a yellow dot at the top of her hair, and a velvet red hanfu (Chinese robe), which the front has a brown and white sash that switches palette when it ends with a thing that holds that sash, she wears a tan dress underneath and wears magenta Mary Janes.
As a red panda, Mei has a large round head and a short dark brown nose that is in front of a white muzzle that begins from her nose and ends with her mouth her face also includes additional white tear tracks starting from where her zygomatic bone is to the corner of her chin and though maybe not visible, she has dark brown/black lips. Her teeth are pointier than her human form, however, she bears the same reddish-brown eyes as her human form her eyebrows however are white and thick, and she has white messy whiskers. She has large, white, pointed ears that are red from behind. Her coat is reddish-brown fading to a dark brown when moving further to her arms and legs while having a brown swirl on her upper arms. Her hands have dark brown paws with small black claws in them. She has a long, bushy tail with alternating dark red and light red rings. She also has an upward and well-formed back with a narrow pelvis, and she also has visible claws hidden under her paw sheaths. When mad, her form slightly alters with her head and cheek fur pointing upwards, her eyebrows having a more pointed shape, her fangs become sharper, and her eyes become an intense, almost-dilated fiery red color.
Powers and Abilities
On Mei's own, she is very intelligent: a straight-A student in school on all subjects. She can also proficiently speak French and play the flute.
Mei's ancestors had a mystical connection with red pandas, something unwillingly passed down to her. This connection allows Mei to transform into a ten-foot-tall anthropomorphic one, gaining a variety of powers in the process. However, she has little to no control over this: her panda form can be released by "any strong emotion", especially those that heighten her adrenaline, causing them to happen at inopportune times. Due to her panda form's size, she possesses great strength and the ability to leap great distances. By learning to control her emotions better, she can transform only parts of herself. In one instance, she turns her right arm into that of a panda's to increase the force put into throwing a ball; this gives the ball the speed a cannonball would, as well as setting the ball on fire from the speed. A minor side effect is that Mei's hair, including her eyebrows, becomes red in her human form.
Mei's transformations occur in brief explosions or "poofs", of pink smoggy smoke. The size of the explosion seems to be related to the intensity of her emotions. Mei can use these to leap great distances and jump to great heights as she shifts from one form to another.