Mei’s digital pet isn’t just a cute throwback to the 2000s for Turning Red’s older audience, it’s actually a meaningful symbol for Mei and her mother.
Warning: This article contains spoilers for To redden.
My cute little digital pet is here To redden becomes the new talisman for Ming’s panda spirit and holds great significance in terms of Ming’s growth as a character and as a mother. The digital pet is clearly inspired by the 2000s hit toy Tamagotchi, originally from Japan but soon becoming a worldwide hit. It is first seen attached to Mei’s backpack in 2000s style as they needed constant maintenance. To redden is a coming-of-age story, and for many children these digital pets were not only cute and funny, but also a sign of responsibility and thus a step towards growing up.
It’s clear from the start To redden that although Mei says she is independent, she is actually in the shadow of what her mother Ming expects of her. Ming, the figurehead of the Lee family temple in To redden, initially tolerates and encourages only completely idyllic behavior from Mei and anything that deviates from family and tradition. However, in the end To redden, Ming’s necklace charm breaks and she needs a new one. She uses Ming’s digital pet for this, and besides being a fun little gag, it makes quite a bit of sense.
Ming’s new talisman, Mei’s digital pet toy, actually represents the better relationship she has with her daughter at the end of the film. Ming’s initial overbearing manner stems from the fear that Mei will drift away from her like Ming from her own mother; Therefore, she tries to sabotage Mei’s independence. This took the form of criticizing Mei’s friends for being overly controlling and expressing disgust towards her daughter’s favorite boy band, 4*Town, because these were things that could take Mei away from her. However, Ming uses the digital pet as her new panda talisman, representing the unity of family tradition and the modern world of who her daughter is in and who she is. The digital pet also allows Ming’s panda to “live” in a sense, rather than repress him like she has for so many years.
Ming is now literally taking care of her panda spirit and thus her inner child. She feeds, cares for and cherishes it instead of fearing and rejecting it because of the scar Mei’s grandmother got from Ming’s red panda when she was younger. Also, her new talisman given to her by her daughter shows the two working towards understanding each other better, and they bring together the different aspects of each of them in Ming’s new talisman. Mei chooses a different path for herself when she decides to keep her red panda, much to her mother’s chagrin. They both want different things for themselves and see things from different perspectives. In the end, both understand that while they may not fully understand each other’s choices, they can still respect them. Ming’s new talisman then represents healing, as does the new relationship Ming has with her daughter, a relationship in which she values Mei as her own person rather than emotionally suffocating her.
At the end of To redden, Ming loosens up and gives up trying to control Mei, and both mother and daughter work to understand each other instead of fighting. Representing responsibility and growth, Mei’s digital pet helps her mother in this way, while Ming learns not to let what happened in her childhood define her and Mei. The cute toy not only acts to evoke nostalgia of the 2000s, but also symbolizes the important growth of core relationship dynamics in To redden.
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