'Turning Red' Director Domee Shi On Why The Groundbreaking Pixar Film Is Her 'Most Personal' Project
Photo Credit: Disney/Pixar
Film

'Turning Red' Director Domee Shi On Why The Groundbreaking Pixar Film Is Her 'Most Personal' Project

Pixar‘s first film with an Asian female lead, Turning Red, will bring teenage angst and hilarity to animation fans. Shadow and Act participated in the press day earlier this year and learned more about the process that went into making this fun, mold-breaking film starring Sandra Oh as straight-laced mom Ming and introducing Rosalie Chiang as Ming’s daughter Meilin.

Director Domee Shi said that she had the idea during the process of making her short film, Bao.

“Back in 2017, as I was promoting my short film Bao, a lot of people kept asking me why is Bao a boy? Why is this little dumpling a boy? And I was like oh, because I only had eight minutes to tell this story, for a mother/daughter story, I’d need an entire feature film to unpack that,” she said. “Um, but luckily, I was soon given the opportunity to do a lot of unpacking when Pixar asked me to pitch some ideas for a feature film.”

She said that during her pitch meeting, Turning Red was “the most personal” to her.

“…I think that’s why Pete and the creative leadership at Pixar ultimately picked it. It was real, it was weird, and very specific. And I think, you know, like that’s-at the end of it-at the end of the day, that’s what draws people to these ideas and stories. It was inspired by my own relationship with my mother.”

Like Meilin’s relationship to her mother, Shi said she did everything with her mother, but it was when she started becoming a teenager that she began forging her own identity.

“I started getting into anime, comics, hang out with my friends more and more and less and less with my mom. And she didn’t understand why I was obsessed with these fictional characters with huge eyes and colorful spiky hair. And she definitely didn’t understand whatever this was. Basically I was being pulled in one direction but my duty and loyalty to my parents and my mom was pulling me in another direction,” she said. “Turning Red is just inspired by this universal struggle of growing up and trying to figure out how to honor your parents but also stay true to yourself.

“And for Meilin in the movie, the red panda is that magical spark that sets off this internal conflict within herself,” she continued. “Because up until that point, Mei thinks she has it all figured out, like we all did before we woke up one day and realized all of a sudden, we’re covered in body hair, we smell funky, and our emotions are all over the place, and we’re hungry like all the time… Turning Red is quirky and surreal, but at its core it is a mother/daughter finally embracing change and all of its [messiness], even if it means saying goodbye to the relationship they once had.”

The film is Pixar’s first one led by an all-female team. Shi and producer Lindsay Collins told Shadow and Act that they felt pleased to have made Pixar history.

“First off, it’s an honor, and…hopefully we are one of many female-led film teams to come,” said Shi. “I mentioned it before, I wanted to make this movie for the [tween] me growing up. Not just for the subject matter, but also just to show girls and kids that women and women of color can lead big feature film productions and it can be successful. And I think that’s super cool.”

“I think it’s also…that as specific as this story is–I think the best stories are, in terms of really feeling like, ‘Oh my gosh, I know who this character is’–…my hope is and I think our belief is, is that it will feel as universal as any other story that we’ve ever told because it touches upon kind of these really [understandable] and [foundational] moments of everybody’s life and their relationships with their families and the struggles and the anxieties of growing up. That will feel just as universal as any story we’ve told,” added Collins.

Turning Red comes to Disney+ March 11.

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