“Turning Red” Director Domee Shi Talks Inspiration for Upcoming Pixar Film During Press Day

Hi everyone!

I was invited to an early virtual press day for Disney and Pixar’s Turning Red, and this is one of several articles I’ll be posting from the event.

Turning Red will release exclusively on Disney+ March 11th, 2022. The story is a personal one for director Domee Shi, one that reflects on her own adolescence and relationship with her mother.

Turning Red animators and Director Domee Shi (seen here) take a research trip to the San Francisco Zoo, including observing red pandas, on December 6, 2019 in San Francisco, Calif. (Photo by Deborah Coleman / Pixar)

Domee Shi started the discussion by talking about where the idea for Turning Red came from. Back in 2017 when Domee promoted her short film Bao, she would be asked  “Why is Bao a boy?” And Domee would say, “Well, because I only had eight minutes to tell the story. For a mother-daughter story, I need an entire feature film to unpack that.” Pixar then asked her to pitch some ideas for a feature film.

Copyright Disney and Pixar

Domee explained that at Pixar, they are asked to pitch three ideas. All of her ideas were “coming of age girl stories” because that is where her passion was. Turning Red was the most personal for her and it was chosen.  The film is inspired by the relationship Domee had with her mother. Domee was an only child, and she and her mom were very close. “We were like two peas in a pod. We literally did everything together.” Until they didn’t, as Domee started hanging out more with her friends and had interests like anime and comics – things her mom didn’t understand. “Turning Red is inspired by this universal struggle of growing up, and figuring out how to handle that push and pull”.

Director Domee Shi is photographed on November 2, 2021 at Pixar Animation Studios in Emeryville, Calif. (Photo by Deborah Coleman / Pixar)

In Turning Red, teenager Mei Lee starts turning into a giant red panda when she gets emotional. Domee says, “We want to use the red panda as an adorable metaphor for the unadorable phenomenon of puberty. For all the scary, awkward, and cringy changes that we go through during this age.” And specifically of an Asian parent-child relationship and a mother and daughter “embracing change in all of its messy, and furry forms, even if it means saying goodbye to the relationship you once had.”

Copyright Disney and Pixar

The movie is set in Toronto and in the early 2000s, during the height of boy bands and the 2000s because it’s a more “simpler time of-of flip phones, CDs, jelly bracelets, Myspace.” Mei Lee and her friends reflect Domee and her friends growing up. “They’re dorky, sweaty, sometimes gross, a little pervy, but ultimately loving, and supportive of each other.”She continued, “I specifically remember being 11 and horrifying my parents by belting out the lyrics to the Spice Girls song ‘When Two Become One,’ completely oblivious to what it actually meant.”

There is a scene in the film that is reminiscent of a real day in Domee’s life. “I definitely had a moment my first day of middle school, coming out of the school with my newfound BFFs. One of-one of my friends taps me on the shoulder and she’s like, ‘Who is that strange lady with the sunglasses hiding behind a tree over there?”‘ She continued, ” I look up and it’s my mom and she thought if she put sunglasses on that I wouldn’t recognize her.” Domee says that the movie allowed her to “unpack” a lot that happened between her and her mother.

MOTHER’S NATURE – In Disney and Pixar’s all-new original feature film “Turning Red,” confident-but-dorky teenager Mei Lee is torn between staying her mother’s dutiful daughter and the chaos of adolescence. And Mei Lee’s mother has very strong feelings about it all. Featuring Rosalie Chiang as the voice of Mei Lee, and Sandra Oh as the voice of Mei Lee’s mother, Ming, “Turning Red” opens in theaters on March 11, 2022. © 2021 Disney/Pixar. All Rights Reserved.

Check back to Mousesteps for more on Disney and Pixar’s Turning Red!