TURNING RED is about to become a major cultural moment for Toronto. The Toronto-set Disney Pixar Animated Feature is about to see a release on Disney+. We witness the world as a 13-year-old Chinese-Canadian girl named Mei (Rosalie Chiang) and what it means to find her own voice when carrying the weight of expectations that her mother Ming (Sandra Oh) places upon her. Mei turns into a Red Panda when triggered and must learn to navigate this new identity. The high-energy coming-of-age story celebrating friendship, infuses elements of fantasy and fandemonium, making us recall a time in our life that would play a pivotal role in us becoming who we are. The City’s very own Domee Shi who won an Oscar for her Animated Short BAO, makes her feature directorial debut here and once again we get more of her “chunk-cute” aesthetic.
It was such a delight to sit-in on a Virtual Panel with the Cast and Creators of TURNING RED, including:
Sandra Oh… Ming
Rosalie Chiang… Mei
Ava Morse… Miriam
Maitreyi Ramakrishnan… Priya
Hyein Park… Abby
Domee Shi… Director/Co-Writer
Lindsey Collins… Producer
Julia Cho… Co-Writer
Director Domee Shi talks about the inspiration behind the Filmwhich in many ways, is autobiographical.
Shi: “The inspiration behind TURNING RED came from my own life growing-up early on Chinese-Canadian. Dorky, sassy, nerdy. Girl who thought she had everything under control. Mom’s good little girl. But then boom! Puberty hit. And I was bigger, I was hairier, I was hungry all the time. I was a hormonal mess and fighting with my mom every other day. Making this Film was a chance to go back to that time.”.
Screen Veteran Sandra Oh is a national treasure and she stars in this very distinctively Canadian film. She talks about the great energy she feels with this Cast and experience with her character, Ming.
Oh: “I think launching the Film is extremely really exciting, to meet all these young women and finally feel the bodies that belong to the voices. I think we’re all excited to be here, excited to launch it. We’re all buzzing.”.
Rosalie Chiang is a star in the making and talks about her deep connecting to our central character, Mei.
Chiang: “My favourite animals are actually Red Pandas. Before the whole project even started. The main thing is that my mom called me “Mei Mei” even before the project. Because “Mei Mei” means “little sister” in Chinese. And so when it came to a point everyone called me “Mei Mei” – even those younger than me, which you’re not supposed to do – and my character was called ‘Perfect little Mei Mei‘. I thought, ‘Hey! I went through that too!'”.
Friendship is such a central theme in TURNING RED. Ava Morse who plays Mei‘s friend Miriam, talks about what this meant to her.
Morse: “I’m still in high school and obviously it can be very stressful and dark at times, because everyone is going through a lot and changing together. Not everyone knows how to handle that. At the same time, they’re living life the best they can. And all my friends means so much to me and they’re all very supportive no matter what. I was inspired by my own friends, putting some of my own friends into Miriam as she’s such a wonderful, supportive friend to Mei and the other girls. My friends are so supportive and always there for me no matter what so it was really cool to give back.”.
The Music plays a very central theme in TURNING RED and here we meet Pixar‘s first ever Boy Band, 4*Town, voiced by among others, Finneas and Jordan Fisher.Mississauga’s Maitreyi Ramakrishnan who voices Mei‘s friend Priya, talks about her own first concert experience.
Ramakrishnan: “I remember when – and this is gonna be very Canadian of me – I remember going into grade nine and going into high school, I went to my first concert to see Mariana’s Trench. And I lost my mind! I was always like ‘Why do people cry at concerts? Shouldn’t you be happy? Shouldn’t you be excited to be there?’. But then as soon as they came out.. bawling! I understand. I understand why I’m crying. I was so emotional and I didn’t know why. Music is important growing-up. It totally shapes who you are. But also enjoying that with your friends – shout-out to specifically to female friendship – which is so key. I love that we show the importance of four young girls being supportive of each other.”.
Often we see story lines with feuding female tropes, but TURNING RED steers from that. Hyein Park who plays another one of Mei‘s friends Abby, talks to this.
Park: “Because I’m a Story Artist at Pixar too, it is very important. So when we finally got to create this female friendship, it was very important that it was authentic. So Domee talked a lot about her own experience with friendship and she would hate to add onto those tropes and just make it real. We actually shared a lot of different stories and moments we love in terms of female friendship. She actually asked a lot of different people in the Studio to get a lot of authentic insight into what girlfriends are really like and how they are there for each other.”.
Producer Lindsey Collins tells us how Grammy-winning brother/sister duo Billie Eilish and Finneas O’Connell came to be involved with the project.
Collins: “4*Town was in the first draft of the Script. It was a very early fake scene written between Ming and Mei that helped illustrate what their dynamic was, and part of that was this joke that has Ming saying, ‘I don’t understand your obsession with this Boy Band and if they’re called 4*Town, why are there five of them?’. It all started as a way to colour Mei‘s character. By the third draft of the Script, we came to this moment. What are the stakes of the Film? What feels right? And certainly all of us remember our 13-year-old selves and what going to our first concert was like. Your first concert felt like the most important thing in the world. It became this great way to ground this fantastical movie with real world 13-year-old stakes. There also was a selfish desire. An animated Pixar Boy Band? Yes, please. Then the question, who was gonna write the music. I have three teens at home and they are listening to music constantly. And Billie and Finneas‘ music was being played all the time in my house. They clearly are people who spoke to this generation in a way that those songs they’re writing, were written for them. And I think, ‘Let’s ask!’. It was such a weird ask. They’re super-popular people and I don’t’ think they’re gonna take anything… but because it was such weird ask, they were kinda intrigued. We pitched in-person and before the meeting, they were like ‘We’re in!’. It’s huge!”.
“The minute you start talking about the music that speaks to that age group and also what it feels to be that age – that is the message of the Film and again, if it was something that felt less in-line with the approach they take in their own music, their answer would’ve been different.”.