Viewers will take away many things from Turning Red. The new animated feature film from Pixar tells the a story that viewers may feel like is their own with one big furry exception. Thirteen year old Mei Lee (voiced by Rosalie Chiang) is a wonderful daughter, a spirited friend who just happens to turn into a twelve foot red panda when her emotions kick in. For the youngest viewers it is an adorable kids monster story. To teens and tweens it is a metaphor for puberty. Others will be caught up Mei and her friends’ quest to attend their fave boy band’s concert. One theme that is at the core of the film is the special bond between mothers and daughters.
Turning Red is a story with universal appeal while feeling unlike anything ever delivered by Pixar both in themes, location and style. The film takes viewers north of the border to Toronto and focuses on a Chinese Canadien teen girl, her friends and family. Viewers will enjoy the fresh new visual that are a mashup of two popular styles
Director and screenwriter Domee Shi appreciated the look of the film, “I’m so proud of the-of this movie and especially the way that it looks, and how the crew all were so excited and so on board with trying this East-meets-West anime-Pixar hybrid kinda style to-to tell this story. Sailor Moon eyes, leaking sweat and snot bubbles may be new to some but fans of animation will enjoy finding them in a Pixar film.
Shi found the inspiration for Turning Red came from her own life, “growing up in the early aughts. Chinese Canadian, dorky, sassy, nerdy girl who thought she had everything under control,” explained Shi. “She was her mom’s good little girl, and then boom, puberty hit, and I was bigger. I was hairier. Was hungry all the time. I was a hormonal mess. And I was fighting with my mom, like, every other day.” Making this film was her my chance to go back to that time and to try to understand what was happening back there.
Playing Mei mother, Ming, is fan favorite Sandra Oh who related to the mother/daughter relationship. “I’d like to call her a hyper-vigilant, loving mother,” she laughed. “And we basically go through this change in our relationship where a natural change between mothers and daughters when daughters have to become their own independent people.
She shared one piece of knowledge so memorable she had to write it down on Post-It, and then I put it up on Instagram. Her mother basically said, “If only you were neater, I would love you more.” Even with such frank advice Oh still has a really good relationship with her mom even if, she said, “I can’t stop her from being herself.”
Like Sandra Oh’s mother, Mei Lee is always herself explains, Maitreyi Ramakrishnan who plays one member of her girl crew, Priya. “Mei has such heart that wants to always do the right thing, and that’s so honorable. She’s just so giving. She’s just trying to be who she is. She chooses to be herself and to be there for friends, be there for her mom. Which she does which such a kind heart.”
The relationship of Mei Lee and Ming will be familiar to many feels writer Julia Cho who connected with co-writer Shi as they developed these two strong female characters. “That sense of that transition from going from a girl whose mom is your whole world, to a young woman who’s trying to learn to be independent, and how scary that is.” Cho explained, “the fact that our moms are still very much a part of our lives, but we had to find a new relationship with them. I think a lot of that definitely went into the story, and into the characters.”
Beyond the mother/daughter relationship Turning Red tackles entering womanhood, individuality, friendship and much more. Producer Lindsey Collins is proudest of creating “a film that makes anyone watching it, a girl or not girl, kid or parent feel seen and understood. And for me, that was always the goal.”
Turning Red is now streaming exclusively on Disney+.